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Source Evaluation

A module for understanding how to evaluate sources, designed specifically for Logic & Critical Thinking (PHIL 2020)


Why is authority important?

Logic students looking for good arguments, pay attention! Here's where the CRAAP test will earn its keep for you. You have to understand the authority your source has (and by extension, your argument). As Dr. Smith has mentioned there are two types of authority: special authority (like a specialist in a particular field, or someone with training in a certain area of knowledge or study) and special access (like a journalist who has access to a person with special authority on a subject they are reporting on). 

Pro Tip: When you are reading an article written by a journalist, do not base your CRAAP test on just that journalist's opinion.  Make sure that what they write is backed up with credible information from an authority IN THE FIELD which is being written about.  Here's an example: A journalist writes about the discovery of a new form of black hole, and quotes a renowned scientist arguing for one possible effect the new black hole will have on our sun. This person is a chemist, not an astrophysicist. So regardless of how solid your journalist's argument is, the argument is not based on an authority in the field of astrophysics, and thus the journalist cannot claim the "special access" authority either. Oops!

Questions about Author Authority

  • Are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations given? What are they?
    • You may have to dig around. Search for the author online. Do their credentials match the topic? Is a gardener talking about gardening? Is a librarian talking about research? Or is the librarian talking about gardening, and the gardener talking about research? That matters!
    • So they're writing about history. Are they affiliated with a history department somewhere?  That kind of affiliation gives them more authority than someone who just may happen to know a lot about some historical event, but has no schooling or training in the field.
  • What are the author's qualifications to write on the topic?
    • This blends in the with the credentials question above.  Look at what they do, and what their accomplishments are.
    • What if they're writing about gardening, but don't have a horticulture degree?  Does it matter that they have 25 years of cultivating a successful farm? Sure... IF they're talking about growing crops! They're talking about rose cultivation? Then maybe not so much. 
    • 'Now think about the history author above. Sure, she doesn't have a degree in history, but what if she actually took part in the event being written about. Does that make a difference? You bet!
    • Let's think about journalists. What kind of publication do they write for? Does it make a difference if it's the New York Times or the National Enquirer? Which argument would you be more persuaded by? 
    • Also keep in mind the journalist's source! Where are they getting the information they're writing about? (Remember my Pro Tip example!)

Questions about Website Authority

  • Is the website connected with a reputable agency, company, or organization?
    • This is just like the author's credentials above. Do the authors of the website have the credentials to discuss the topics they are discussing? If it's a website on dieting, is the author a nutritionist? If it's a website about growing roses, do the authors have special knowledge in the field? Are they a horticulturalist, or do they have credible experience breeding roses? If not, that's a negative!
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? Examples: .com (commercial), .edu (educational), .gov (U.S. government), .org (nonprofit organization), or .net (network)
    • This is just a quick way to let you know where the site is coming from. If you're looking for government information, then stick to .gov sites. If you're looking for non-profit information, they're likely a .org. In the case of ARGUMENTS, the URL isn't as important as other things might be. (But of course, that all changes when you're doing other kinds of research!)
  • Is any contact information available?
    • Can't find any way to contact the author, or the website administrators, or an address, or even where the site is located? That's a yellow flag, so make sure you're especially attentive to other key CRAAP factors.
  • Does the website have an "About Us" page that shows they have expertise in the content of your source?
    • Any website worth its salt should have a page that tells you something about who they are and why they exist. If your site doesn't have any of that information, that's another flag!


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Another important piece: Accuracy

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