Maithri Sivaraman, MSc, BCBA, International Dissemination Coordinator
Association for Science in Autism Treatment

We live in an increasingly evolving digital age. Consumers encounter information from a multitude of sources including traditional media sites, social media, and email. Much of this information is valuable; however not all of them are sources of information as much as they are propaganda driven by advertising and clicks. Sadly, the onus of evaluating the overload of media content available to us lies with the consumer. Never before has the need been more urgent for the public to develop their critical thinking skills and distinguish fact from fiction. The following resources will help in sorting the reliable news from the unreliable and aid in making decisions about which sources to trust.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – The National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers tools for finding and evaluating online resources of health-related information. It provides suggestions on five quick questions to ask when visiting a health website to decide if it is a useful resource. Information specific to using complementary approaches to ASD is also available. A thorough Clinical Digest outlines the evidence base (if any) associated with several commonly used complementary health approaches for ASD.

Medline Plus – Medline Plus provides an online guide to healthy web surfing and evaluating the quality of health-related information. The tips mentioned are concise and replete with examples of statements one might encounter on the web along with their implications. It also provides a 16-minute long online tutorial that teaches consumers how to appraise online material.

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) – FAIR is a media watch group, established in 1986, that offers well-documented criticism of predispositions in the reporting of information. Their article on detecting bias in the media provides a step-by-step guide to identifying and challenging the information that is likely behind the headlines. The references to loaded language and misleading headlines are useful reminders to prevent consumers from falling prey to such articles that frequently appear in the media.

American Press Institute (API) – The American Press Institute provides an article to help consumers figure out what media sources to trust by asking six simple questions. The API emphasizes the nature of the source and the evidence being cited as key factors towards critically thinking about the credibility of media information.

Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center – Johns Hopkins Medicine is an integrated global healthcare enterprise and one of the leading healthcare systems in the United States. Their website offers tips on safe internet surfing for health-related information. A presentation to help readers identify the accuracy, authority, bias, currency and comprehension of a sample website is provided. The author calls these guidelines the “ABCs of website evaluation”.

Cornell University Library – Cornell University lists five criteria used for evaluating web pages. It also has a section dedicated to identifying fake news and advertisements designed to look like news. A guide to critical analysis of scientific information sources is available to readers. The library offers tips for simple appraisal of the author and his/her expertise as well as a more detailed evaluation of content quality.

The Digital Resource Center – The Digital Resource Center aims to teach students of journalism to identify reliable information from the daily media tsunami. A free course on News Literacy, created by Stony Brook University, is available on their website. Out of the 14 lessons that are aimed at students of journalism, Lesson 8, Source Evaluation, is useful for news consumers as well. It looks at the standards that consumers can use to weigh the credibility of sources in news reports and explores definitions of self-interest, independence and authority. The course is downloadable for offline use.

Boston College Libraries – The library of Boston College offers a guide to responsible news consumption. The guide is organized into several sections and teaches consumers to evaluate an article before deciding to share it on social media. The guide offers several examples of news stories to distinguish between real and fake ones i.e., straight reporting of facts against advertisements masquerading as news. An extensive list of additional reading and teaching tools is provided at the end of the guide.

Coursera course on “Making Sense of the News” – A free 6-week course is available to anyone interested in evaluating news and making informed judgments. Created by the State University of New York and University of Hong Kong, the course is in English with subtitles in Chinese and Spanish. The syllabus includes modules addressing where one can find trustworthy information and how to apply news literacy concepts in real life.

Santa Clara University’s Fact Checking Guide – An infographic designed to help students of Santa Clara University, and news consumers in general, stay better informed and be skeptical while reading the news. It emphasizes the need to reflect on one’s own personal background and how it might affect the interpretation of a source. It also offers an extensive roster of online resources for checking facts.

The Oxford Dictionary coined the term “post-truth” in 2016 and defined it as relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. Let us all be responsible news consumers and take the effort to look into the evidence in a story without being entrapped by non-truth and post-truth.

Citation for this article:

Sivaraman, M. (2018). Ten resources for consumers to evaluate information sources. Science in Autism Treatment, 15(2), 7-8.

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