Is This a Good Source?

A student told me, about a year ago, that a tutor at our writing center told him/her to skip a required source evaluation section of his/her paper, because “No one cares if your sources are credible.”  Instead, the tutor suggested doing an annotated bibliography.

All issues with the tutor (whom I do not know) aside, the idea that people aren’t concerned about the credibility of their sources is a big issue in our society (meaning in the U.S.).

As an example, a friend recently sent on the following link:

Instantly, my “instructor” persona kicked in and started evaluating the source.

I’m using this page as an example because it demonstrates almost every major credibility red flag there is, all in a single handy page.  For ease, I’ll divide my critique into two categories: the author and the host site.

Author Credibility

1) The author is a doctor (a PhD), just not in the area she implies.  To my read, it is implied that she’s an M.D.  She is not, but a web search is necessary to discover this information.  So, we have concealment of a false authority fallacy.

2) She makes various statements like “I heard”, all from unnamed and un-cited sources.  Thus, readers cannot determine a) if the statement is reality or fiction or b) if the author’s sources are credible, or if they even exist.

3) About 2/3 of the article is an off-topic rant, a sure sign that the author is trying to distract readers from the lack of information and/or credibility of the minimal on-topic part.

4) The author’s tagline at the end is interesting.  Normally, these lines are used to briefly explain the author’s credibility or expertise in the field or as a writer.  Instead, here we get the author’s contact information and the totally irrelevant information that she earned her black belt rank in tae kwon do in the 1990s (which has nothing to do with the article, the author’s credibility, or her expertise).

A critique could address the author’s use of claims that have been repeatedly debunked over the last four years, but I’ll avoid the potential partisanship there.

Beyond the author, the host site itself raises a few major red flags regarding credibility.

Site Credibility

1) Contradictory information in the About page.  Their About page claims that the site and its contributors are non-partisan, politically, religiously, and otherwise.  Comparing this claim to the books and DVDs they sell through their site paints a contradictory picture as everything sold through the site is clearly far right wing conservative Christian in nature.

2) On a related note, a perusal of the site’s contributor profiles shows that most, if not all, of them are conservative talk show hosts.  This further problematizes their claim to be non-partisan.

3) Finally, the biggest red flag of all.  The site claims “only we tell the truth.”  This is a massive red flag undermining the site’s credibility, since anyone who has to make this statement is probably doing their best to pull one over on the reader.  This claim is one of the oldest cons there is.

One comment on “Is This a Good Source?

  1. calmgrove says:

    As a Brit of advanced years, I have to say to Dr Laurie Roth, ‘the Annie Oakley of the Airwaves’, that, despite our National Health Service, I’m Not Dead Yet. These right-wing rants are probably not confined to the U.S. but thankfully I see precious few of them here. Though we do have papers like the Daily Mail doing a good job persuading their readership that GB is turning into a latter day Sodom and Gomorrah with illegal and legal immigrants, asylum seekers, paedophiles, red-tape commissars and leftie teachers all in cahoots. All without too much need to do other than selectively quote statistics. Or maybe make up their own.


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