When seeking information, remember:

Seek information, not affirmation

Source + Motivation = Value

Dig deeper–do not rely on just one source

The most important part of any search for information is to understand what you have found in the context of how you would like to use that information.

With Google, Wikipedia, and thousands of other possible tools (free and commercial), you will almost surely find information on a topic.

The challenge comes in understanding what you have.  How do you want  to use a piece of information?  Is it appropriate to use it?  Is the information legitimate and valid?  Does it actually help answer your question?  Taking a critical look at the information you have gathered is the most important step of any search.

Keep in mind that there is a very natural tendency for people and organizations to present information in a way that best serves their own self-interests.  Sometimes this is done by deliberate disinformation; and, sometimes it is done by truthfully presenting the information that is supportive and just not including the information that isn’t; there are many shades of this on the spectrum.

Many people tend to accept and not question information that comes from specific sources–a religious leader, a Presidential candidate (or the President!), another high government official, an advocacy Web site, a certain radio or television personality, a news network, and so on. Despite the cynicism that is supposed to grip our society, the inclination to accept information uncritically today is alive and well.

When the information is important to you (personally, professionally, academically, etc.), it is essential that you take an honest, skeptical look at the information you gather. Do not assume that the information must be true or objective just because it comes from a certain source.

Many of us routinely do some evaluation of the information we take in, but very few of us make the effort to evaluate information systematically and to the extent truly needed–when that information is important to us.

The linked is a list of questions that will help you determine how appropriate, valid, and useful a piece of information may be.

Does the Facebook post, tweet, chat, blog, article, book, government document, news program, podcast, Web site, etc. provide answers to the relevant questions linked above? If not … why not?

To operate intelligently in our society and to make up your own mind about important issues means that it is essential to critically evaluate the important information you gather and use.

Be skeptical about the information you find. You don’t always need to be cynical, but a little skepticism is healthy … and smart.

Questions?  Please let me know (engelk@grinnell.edu).