11 November 2014
No EE reader would ever utter the words "I saw it on the Interweb." But when we find online historical accounts that relate to our subject, are we appropriately critical? Or do we yield to the temptation to use the material, cite the site, and let our readers make their own judgments?
EE hopes you answered "Yes" to the first question and groaned at the second. It's true, few of us like to be critical. Still, there's a good kind of criticism that all researchers have to apply to achieve any measure of reliability in their work. At websites, our critical analysis should start with these four questions:
- What entity publishes the website? What is the URL extension? (Examples: .edu, .gov, .org, .bunk ?)
- Who created the content of the specific item we are considering? (Sam Schmoe or Catherine Credentialed?)
- Does the website or its article take an objective tone, giving both pros and cons of the issue without inflammatory or superlative words—or does its language reflect a partisan agenda or an otherwise biased viewpoint?
- Does the material provide references? If so, do those references (not the citations, but the underlying sources that are being cited) meet the standards we try to apply to all our historical research?
These four basic questions, if we ask them rigorously, can keep us out of a lot of devilment.
PHOTOCREDIT: "Laptop screen with a sign with the word - Risk," CanStockPhoto (http://www.canstockphoto.com/images-photos/devilment-reliability.html#file_view.php?id=19462255 : downloaded 1 November 2014), uploaded 13 April 2014 by Gajus; used under license.