How to Know If a Source is Reliable, a la
Shmoop. [Football hits man in head] Meet Maria. She’s always cutting corners. When she encounters a young man selling supposedly
brand-name purses out of the trunk of his [Maria meetings car salesman] car, she thinks she’s found the best deal
ever… …until, that is, Maria discovers the Burberry
handbag she covets is actually made by Barberry… [Maria holding burberry hand bag] …in China… …out of plastic.
While anyone with half a brain should know [Butterfly flys out of Maria’s head] that a designer clutch for sale at a street
vendor isn’t the real thing… …even the savviest writers sometimes have
difficulty discerning whether a source is [Girl thinking about writing] reliable… …or super shady. So, how do we tell good
sources from bad? Well, first off, did we pull our source off
the Internet? While websites can provide us [Farenheit 451 typed into shmoople search engine] with all sorts of marvelous information… …and cat pictures… …the Internet is also rife with gossip and
outright lies, which is why we have to be very, very careful when using online sources.
If we’re pulling content from the official [Cat laughing from a laptop] webpages of the White House, Walmart, or a
reputable newspaper like The New York Times… …then the information we’re using is probably
safe, given that it’s been uploaded with the full weight of the U.S. government… [Congress building lands inside US mail box] …the Walton family… …and the liberal media machine behind it.
Wikipedia, however, does not make the cut as a reliable source. Anyone… …absolutely anyone… …can log on to Wikipedia and edit articles.
Random blog posts with anonymous authors also [Laptop opens and cat laughs] don’t constitute reliable sources.
This brings us to our next criteria for determining reliability. Whether the source we’re interested
in is a book, a piece in an academic journal, [Book lands on tablet and smashes screen] or an article taken off the Internet, we have
to ask: Who’s the author? The author of a reliable source will be respected
in his or her field of study… …and will cite his or her sources so we
can fact-check to our heart’s content. For example, if we’re writing an essay about
President William Howard Taft and his enormous [Pencil writing an essay] bathtub… …we should look for source materials written
by noted historians… …Taft’s family, friends, and other contemporaries… …or maybe even by President Taft himself.
We also need to know when a source was written [Pencil hits Taft and page turns] in order to decide whether it’s reliable
or not. Say we’re writing a paper about yellow fever.
While medical texts hailing from the era of the building of the Panama Canal might be
interesting… [Fly buzzing past people] …a source penned more than one hundred years
ago doesn’t tell us much about where yellow fever is prevalent today, or why… [Man sprays pest spray at fly] …and what people can do to protect themselves
from bleeding all over the furniture. In other words, a reliable source is appropriate
to the topic and the time we’re writing about.
Here’s another criteria for determining the reliability of a source: What’s the
author’s purpose? [Man puts fork into socket and electrocutes himself] While some authors set out to provide an objective
look at a topic… …others will have an agenda, because they
have very strong feelings about the subject… …or perhaps because their research was sponsored
by an organization with a particular outlook. [Man on a ship smiles and sparkles from teeth] It’s our job when searching for sources
to identify where the author is coming from, why, and if their viewpoint is reliable enough
to include in our own work. For example, say we’re writing a paper on
pesticide use in the United States. [Pest crawling on a leaf] We find an article written by a biologist
who claims that a particular pesticide used on corn doesn’t negatively affect human
health… …even though a dozen other biologists in
a dozen other academic papers have come to [People giving thumbs down] the opposite conclusion. Given how very different Biologist A’s stance
is on our pesticide from the rest of the scientific community, it’s of the utmost importance
that we determine whether he’s a reliable source or not. In this case, a quick search determines that
Biologist A’s study was sponsored by the company that manufactures the pesticide. [Pest spray and pest appear on study findings] Sorry, Biologist A, but we vote you off the
island. We’ve discussed how reliable sources will
have authors who know what they’re talking about… …and who are willing to put their names
on their work. Reliable sources will be relevant to our topic… [Darts land into topic targets] …and will have citations that allow us to
check the source’s veracity. While we can look online for reliable sources,
we know to be cautious about what we find on the Internet.
One last question: Why does it matter whether we use reliable sources or not? Whether we’re producing a paper for school
or for an employer… [Woman at work typing on laptop] …we’re putting our names to something.
We’re saying that what we’ve written can be relied on. When our own reputations are on the line with
our peers, our teachers, or our employers, we must take the extra time… [Clock rings] …and really, it isn’t much… …to make sure that the information we use
to back our opinions is good. Otherwise, we’ll look like idiots. [Woman wearing a dunce hat]