Googling the Truth

BCC coverIn Books, Crooks & Counselors, I give some tips for research, including ways to check the reliability of websites.

So when I saw this article by Angela Hill of the San Jose Mercury News, Truth Isn’t All It Used to be Online, I read closely. It’s a smart piece. Hill looks at our growing tendency to check facts quickly — fine, as far as it goes, but we don’t always go far enough, often stopping when we see a confirming source, without checking its reliability. (An example, I think, of what psychologists call “confirmation bias.”) The result can be greater certainty in incredible theories — increasing fragmentation in an already divided society.

Technology is changing the classroom, too, with teachers now recognizing that they need to give students tools to sort the glut of information available and figure out what can and can’t be relied on.

Where does Wikipedia come in? Not surprisingly, its directors contend that the entries are as reliable as encyclopedias ever were — truth not always being so easy to quantify. (“The victors write the history books,” after all.)

And so, as much or more than ever, we need to dig deep. Or as Hill quotes “Quiz Princess” Hailey Field, who hosts a trivia night in an Oakland brewpub. “Use your brain, not your technology.”