Avoiding Misinformation, Disinformation, and Dismediation

Good scholarship protects us from misinformation (wrong information), disinformation (intentionally deceptive information), and dismediation (intentionally deceptive efforts to discredit reliable channels of information). Wrong and deceptive information is rampant on public forums and on poor quality media platforms. You should not rely on such sources for factual claims (unless you are a pro who can independently verify the information you get from them – and even then, you will need to explain why you are using such sources instead of scholarly ones).

The institutions that support scholarship, such as granting agencies, peer-reviewed journals, libraries, and so on, rely on gatekeepers to keep bad information out and allow good information in. Of course, no such system is foolproof, so we need to maintain our own critical abilities. The scholarly system, when it works well, polices itself. If a work of misinformation or disinformation gets published, distributed, and archived, we count on other scholars to identify it and demand a retraction or correction.

We don’t want to be too strict about information sources, however. Some scholars dismiss journals that are new, have a high acceptance rate, don’t have illustrious board members, publish infrequently, only publish online, etc. In other words, it might be snobbish to believe that nothing published in such journals can be taken seriously because the journal (the media channel) itself is suspect. While long-established journals with low acceptance rates and illustrious board members, etc. have earned their reputations, they also can become stodgy and boring, while less-established journals might be worth reading precisely because they challenge the hegemony of the more established journals.

Discernment

As readers, we bring critical thinking to our research. Gullibility, or trusting too easily, is a problem because it means we are more likely to accept misinformation, disinformation, or dismediation. But we can go too far in the other direction and end up in cynicism – not trusting at all – which leads us to reject reliable sources. For instance, the internet has enormous amounts of information that is true and useful. Refusing to accept it because it’s on the internet is as problematic as accepting everything that’s on the internet. Our struggle is to practice discernment: when to trust and when not to trust. Discernment requires care and effort.

Our blind spots – gaps in our knowledge – present obstacles to discernment. These gaps make us vulnerable to the Dunning-Kruger effect: “people suffering the most among their peers from ignorance or incompetence fail to recognize just how much they suffer from it.”[1] Researchers need to catch their own assumptions by seeing what others are saying about a source, identifying the unknowns: “gaps in knowledge may go unrecognized in everyday life because people fail to have outside agents hovering over them” (254).

Click on the following link for a tutorial on SIFT (Stop, Investigate, Find, Trace) from Wayne State University, which helps you overcome your blind spots and distinguish good sources from problematic sources.

Key Takeaways

Do Don’t
Understand what constitutes useful information in your discipline and for your project Ignore criteria for what constitutes useful information in your discipline and for your project
Use ACRL standards to determine the credibility of journals in your field Use materials from journals without a clear understanding of their credibility within your field
Ask whether bias in your source material is warranted or unwarranted Reject sources out of hand because they exhibit bias – first ask whether the bias is unwarranted
Point out unwarranted bias in the scholarly work we find Repeat unwarranted bias without comment
Additional research to determine whether your source contains disinformation, misinformation, or dismediation Repeat disinformation, misinformation, or dismediation without comment
Understand the system of gatekeeping within your discipline Ignore the system of gatekeeping within your discipline

Evaluation will be a recurring theme in a later chapter when we move into refining and evaluating your research question.


Exercises

  1. Why do we need gatekeepers in our disciplines?
  2. What efforts should you make to ensure source credibility?
  3. What are the differences between warranted and unwarranted bias?
  4. How significant are the problems of disinformation, misinformation, and dismediation?
  5. What was the most important lesson you learned from this module? What point was confusing or difficult to understand?

Write your answers in a webcourse discussion page.

Go to the discussion area and find the Evaluating Scholarly Resources Discussion. Participate in the discussion.


  1. James M. Olson, Mark P. Zanna. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. Netherlands, Elsevier Science, 2011, 251.

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