I just recently stumbled across this link to the ‘Heartland Institute‘ via a reference in an American Newspaper site citing their sources for an article about the US Economic Stimulus package. I initially was hoping this might be a satiric site such as CNNN, but after taking a closer look and checking out some references it appears these people are actually serious (and worse still seem to have a lot of funds at their disposal to spread their dubious view). Reading this rubbish got me thinking about how many kids would actually think this could be an authoritative source for information.
I often see readers commenting on websites that are an obvious parody, taking the written word on these sites absolutely serious and literally. But the mentioned site above is written with the obvious intent to present the information as fact (no matter how ridiculous the claims are). I don’t actually want to get into the (mis-) information presented on this site, but more the danger posed by such sites if we don’t teach digital literacy to our kids at school from a young age. Skills such as checking the sources and motivations behind certain ‘news and information’ sites.
While some of these sites (such as the example above) are very secretive about their donors and sources of revenue it should be fairly obvious by trying to do a quick online check what their particular objective is. In the particular example used above the published donations from the Tobacco industry and obvious links to the Oil industry both in the people employed by the organisation as well as direct contributions should give a very clear indication.
Sources to check the facts:
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (http://www.ipcc.ch/)
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (http://unfccc.int/)
- Union of Concerned Scientists (http://www.ucsusa.org/)
Sources to check the background
- PRWATCH (http://www.prwatch.org/)
- Center for Public Integrity (http://www.publicintegrity.org/)
- Media Transparency (http://www.mediatransparency.org/)
Now I am certainly not advocating to take the information from the sites above as automatically correct. Sites such as these might have their own motivations and can also skew their information to suit their own objectives. My point is more making the next generation aware of the need to check and balance their information sources and in the end use their own brain to weigh up the different sources in terms of their validity.
However seeing the browsing habits of my own children and their friends I fear that this particular skill-set has not been given a lot of attention in schools so far. I very much hope this is going to change with age and I will try my best to make them aware of the need to check.
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Just read an interesting blog entry on the same subject by Christian Kreutz: When do we trust an information source?