I've had this one sitting in my things-to-blog list for a few days and finally had time to have a deeper look. Gregory McNamee has a good piece on information literacy with his 10 Ways to Test Facts at the Britannica Blog:
Yep. That sounds like the world, whether that sea is coming out of the newspaper, magazines, newspapers, the mouths of my colleagues or the internet. McNamee suggests some well-placed coaching:
... with a little coaching we all have in us the makings of champion freestyle surfers on that great ocean of data, knowing just where to look for tasty waves and a cool buzz, to quote the immortal Jeff Spicoli, and knowing too just where the riptides are.
Here's my take on McNamee's ten items. Some of them are fairly straightforward, but in some cases there is an alternate view that is just as valuable.
- Don't trust the first thing you find in your search for information.
- Interrogate your sources and the facts. Do they make sense? Are the sources reliable?
- "Facts are stupid things" until we give them meaning. But also don't extrapolate without supporting evidence.
- Watch for passive voice in statements of supposed fact. Yet another reason I dislike academic writing that uses too much passive voice.
- Beware of anonymous quotes, their reliability is suspect.
- Symmetrical skepticism: assume goodwill, but don't believe things outright. This is an old standard of journalism that has been fading in a world where people can publish at will. This means that we must rely on a wider array of voices to find the reality.
- Wait. Don't jump off the deep end at some exciting piece of news. The other way to look at this one is that you should be prepared to change your mind.
- Have fun. Play with what you've learned. Recombine into something new and useful.
- Don't be dogmatic. Everyone gets things wrong from time to time. It's okay.
- Are you sure? The advice here is to be sure before you speak. But again, I think it is just as important to be willing to be wrong and issue those corrections.