What information is reliable?
Nothing is certain. We can doubt everything and even
scientific 'truth' is conditional on perspective, or possible future
refutation. Here are some general pointers
1. Use scientific publications
Although the difference between
accepted knowledge and disputed conjecture is not always completely clear,
there are some widely used criteria to assess the value of knowledge. Peer
review is a crucial one: knowledge that has been checked by colleagues to
make sure it is methodologically and theoretically sound. Articles
published in scientific journals go through peer review, as do most
scientific books. However, keep in mind that scientists do not always
agree: there may be different approaches, schools of thought, opinions,
Reports may also be used
as a source of information, although they are second choice. In the case
of reports, you should try to assess the reliability or reputation of its
producers. Reports may be produced by government (in which case they are
likely to represent to view of the government at hand), by consultants,
academics, non-governmental organisations, or ideologically motivated
think tanks. When you think a report may represent only one viewpoint, you
can still use it, but then use it as a representation of that viewpoint,
not as undisputed fact.
A lot of sources can be
accessed through the Internet, but the quality of free-ranging Internet
information is very variable. Please be very careful and keep an eye on
the source of the information, e.g. did you find your document on the
website of a ministry or an advocacy group? Bulletin boards, blogs, web
magazines and the like may trigger a search for information, but are in
themselves generally unreliable.
Wikipedia deserves special attention. Although on average the Wikipedia is
as reliable as a good printed encyclopaedia, it suffers from specific flaws.
One of these is vandalism. Especially highly controversial entries get
damaged by vandals and virtual graffiti.
change is such a controversial topic. For example, on 19 March 2008, the
Wikipedia Climate Change entry read: “keep killing that environment”. On 15
March 2008, it read: