Evaluating Information

Authority

When evaluating information, ask yourse if an author, or the organization he or she is writing for, has the qualifications and experience to write with authority about the topic. Does the author have a degree or experience in the field, or published other books or articles on the subject? Does the responsible organization have experience and knowledge about the topic?

On the Web, look for information about the author or sponsoring organization on the page — especially in the header (top of the page) or footer (bottom of the page). Sometimes you'll have to follow a link or two to find out about the author or organization. Other times, there will be no information given, and you may have to check other sources — books, journals and catalogs and websites — to find out an organization or author's credentials. A librarian can help you with this, so feel free to ask.

Find the information about the author of this page:

http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/resources/orbiters/discovery.html

In this case, we can find out about the author by clicking on his name in the footer of the page:

Last Updated Monday August 8 6:16:52 EDT 2005
Jim Dumoulin (dumoulin@titan.ksc.nasa.gov)

Would you say this person has the authority to write about space shuttle missions? In other words, does he have enough knowledge and experience with the topic to write accurate and credible information on the subject?

This is always a judgment call. In some cases, you won't know much about the webpage's author or the website's sponsoring organization. In other cases, like this one, we know the author works for NASA (an organization which itself is an authority on the space shuttle) as a Senior Engineer in the Internet Systems Laboratory at Kennedy Space Center, where he has worked since 1982. He has a Masters degree in both Computer Science and in Space Technology. You could reasonably assume he has the authority to write about the space shuttle. In contrast, he's probably not qualified to write an article about the ecology of coral reefs.

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