Crap Detection 101

Mar 19 2010

Was President Barack Obama born in the United States?  Does the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend a vegan diet for infants?  As the inventor of the WWW, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, recently commented, “the Internet does not have an IQ.”  Consider for a moment that close to 90% of university students begin their research using a search engine, and that less than 1% of all searchers travel past the first page of results.  The implications are enormous…

No less problematic is that more and more of today’s information is delivered un-authorized.  In the past, scholars, editors, publishers and librarians all provided a level scrutiny so that when you acquired data, you could feel somewhat confident that it had been reviewed and that its value had been ascertained.  Today librarians – including those at NYIT – teach information literacy as a lifelong learning and critical thinking skill.  Could I self-publish a book?  One moment let me clean out my desk!  Could I create a .org website and try to influence public opinion?  Give me 15 minutes and I will have the website up and running!

When wandering through Google’s sometimes empty corridors it is very important to understand the wisdom of crap detection.  To quote American novelist Ernest Hemingway: “every good writer needs a crap detector.”  And to go one step further: every good information consumer needs a crap detector.  Thankfully, writers like Howard Rheingold are providing us with a roadmap.

When consuming any information online you must always ask yourself the following:

C – Is the information current?
R – How reliable is the information?
A – Is the author clearly identified and, if so, what are his or her credentials?  And
P – What is the point of view? Why was the information generated in the first place?

Now that your antenna (aka critical acumen) is up and scanning the horizon for garbage, travel online bravely, but always remember that misinformation and disinformation lay waiting for you every click of your mouse.  Pretend for a moment that you are a journalist and doubt, detect, discern and demand!  You may just discover that you are quite an extraordinary detective.

Do you need assistance locating information, searching journal databases, or documenting your sources? E-mail:

Author: sebastien_marion