Gov. Sarah Palin bans books! Barack Obama is secretly Muslim! As the U.S. presidential election looms less than two months away, becoming an educated voter is vitally important. But how do we educate ourselves without falling victim to the vast quantities of smears and partisan spin we're bombarded with daily?
Well, before you forward the next inflammatory e-mail you receive from Uncle Joe, please consider using the following checklist, "CARS," designed to help people determine the "truthiness" of the information they receive:
Credibility: Are the author's credentials stated and relevant to the topic? Does the author provide contact information? Is the article supported or published by a well respected organization?
Accuracy: Is the information current, free from spelling and grammatical errors, and factual?
Reasonableness: Is the information presented in a fair, balanced and objective manner?
Support: Does the author list his or her sources? Are their claims corroborated by other reliable sources with documentation supplied? Do the cited sources provide convincing evidence for the claims made?
Additionally, nonpartisan Web sites such as snopes.com (Urban Legends Reference Pages) and FactCheck.org monitor the factual accuracy of claims made on a variety of controversial topics.
One could argue that even the mainstream media has been guilty of not following the above guidelines 100 percent of the time, but following these guidelines ourselves can help reduce the spread of misinformation while allowing us to make better informed decisions.
The above checklist has been edited for size from the CARS checklist developed by Robert Harris and used with permission. See the entire list of criteria at: http://www.virtualsalt.com/evalu8it.htm.
Associate professor of Library and Information Science
University of Alaska Southeast