All About Sources

There is a lot of information on preparedness found on the web.  Some of it is fabulous and frankly some of it is flat-out wrong.  In one of my recent posts, I described the importance of seeking out good sources when you look for preparedness information.  Here are some questions that you can ask yourself to determine how much to trust any source.

1) Does the website cite sources? 

I often share my own personal stories on my blog, and there isn't a better source than myself when it comes to my own experiences.  But when it comes to reporting news, giving safety information, etc., I feel that I have a serious responsibility to give you accurate, up-to-date information.  So I often turn to other, more-knowledgeable sources.  No single writer is going to know everything about everything.  Eventually, they'll read or use other resources.  Watch for clarification from the writer about which elements of their writing are their own opinion and when it is coming from an outside resource.  When that happens, they should tell you what their resource is.  Even better, look for links and source lists included with each relevant post. 

2) Do they cite credible sources?

Don't just look for cited sources, but look at what those sources are.  You can learn a lot from just a glance.  If you can't tell about the source in a glance, then click on the links and follow them to the original location. I do this with every website that I read regularly. It doesn't take long to learn if the writer is using trusted, less-trusted, or sub-culture resources.

For example, if you were reading a list of first aid tips and looked under and saw a reference to throwsafetytothewind.com, it might indicate that what you read there deserved much more scepticism than if it stated redcross.org

3) Does the writer (and the resources they cite) use multiple and primary sources?

Articles, news reports and blogs are much more credible when the authors verify their information by using multiple and primary sources.  I often compile information for my posts using multiple sources in order to give you accurate information.  I try to make sure that my sources come from places that use information that is verified in this way.

Multiple sources means that several people or news agencies independently report the same/similar information.  A primary source means that the person who had the experience is the one giving the information - not my mother told me that her neighbor said . . .

I read a recent article online that had to be retracted just a few days later because it's single source didn't stick by their information once under pressure.  The mistake was that the writers of the article used only a single source and that single source was a secondary source (not primary) meaning they were sharing an experience someone else told them about.   

4) Is this information consistent across many other sites?

Check out the information you read by searching for other sites that verify the same information.  Usually a single source is not enough.   It is better to find two or three opinions that back up what you have read.   And again, pay attention to the credibility of those back-up sources. 

5) What is the bias?

EVERY writer has a bias.  Make sure you read enough to know what that bias is.  

6) Do they openly acknowledge the relationship between themselves and any advertising on their page?

A lot of online sources openly advertise on their pages.  They don't hide that they profit from doing so.  Usually any advertising is clearly labeled as such.  I get particularly concerned, though, when writers advertise products without publicly making disclaimers about their possible bias or profit because of advertising kickbacks. 

A recent example of this was a blogger who discussed a product and claimed it was the superior one available and most cheaply purchased at *recommended website*.  A little research on my part soon made it clear that the link was to the blogger's own retail website, which wasn't disclosed and was quite difficult to discern.  Think of it as a major conflict of interest.  Because of the lack of disclosure in this situation, I will be less likely to trust that writer's product recommendations in the future.  It just takes a little research to find similar advertising conflicts, but it's definitely worth your time, especially when you are trying to purchase reliable products for reasonable prices.

Hopefully you can use these questions to help you determine the trust-worthiness of the writing that you read.   It's good to apply a healthy dose of skepticism and always keep your guard up.  Remember, that even the most trusted sources make mistakes sometimes.   When you are paying attention to sources, you can proceed with more confidence about the information that you have received.

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