Assess the Quality of Information at a Web Site
Note: This article has been archived and may no longer be updated.
13 February 2003. A site visitor writes:
I am reading a document on your Web site entitled, "Evaluating the Quality of Information on the Internet: Checklist". I want to apply it, but am having trouble determining whether the following Web sites are bogus:
Evaluating the quality of information provided on a Web site involves more than determining its authenticity. An author may write with genuine passionate belief in that which he says, but the facts may not support his contention. Examine, for example, this document, alleging that aspartame causes multiple sclerosis. While inaccurate, and perhaps irresponsible, it is not necessarily a fake.
Before you rely on information, you should:
Determine its origin.
Discover the author AND the publisher.
Ascertain the author's and publisher's credentials.
Discover the date of the writing. This gives the information historical context.
Verify it. Find another reputable source that provides similar information.
Regarding the addresses you provide, the first leads to the Web site of the World Trade Organization. It's the real McCoy, unlike that of gatt.org, which people sometimes confuse with the genuine WTO site.
Discover Web site ownership by checking the domain registration record. Our How To article, entitled Discover Who Owns a Web Site, provides resources and information about domain name owners. Domain records for wto.org and gatt.org show their owners as the World Trade Organization and Prince & Associates Inc., respectively.
The second Web address -- http://www.smokingsection.com/issues1.html#smoke -- connects to an opinion piece. Following the above recommendations, you should discover the owner of smokingsection.com. The domain registration record indicates that it is Mike Williams of Providence, RI. Who is Mike Williams? What are his credentials?
The author appears to be Joe Dawson. What is his expertise on this subject? No information about his credentials appear at the site.
The article carries a 1994, 1995 copyright. Were these the facts about second-hand smoke during those years? Like the aspartame document, evidence fails to support the author's contention. Moreover, the author and publisher lack authority.
Instead of relying on such a questionable site, obtain information about second-hand smoke from sources like the Office of the Surgeon General, the National Cancer Institute, the EPA, and the National Institutes of Health.
The last address -- http://ihr.org/jhr/v15/v15n2p10_Okeefe.html -- produces an article published in the Journal of Historical Review and hosted on a Web site owned by the Institute for Historical Review. What is the Institute for Historical Review? Who are the people behind it? What are their credentials? Do the facts support the author's thesis?
When I was a kid and whined about someone saying something I didn't like, my mama admonished, "Consider the source." Searchers should follow Mama's advice. If you want authoritative information about the Holocaust, for instance, obtain it from a source like the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.