How many times have we heard this in the past few years. This is the call to arms of conspiracy theorists, letting you know that if you do a thorough Google search, you can find “proof” of coverups, conspiracies, and takeovers. For some fun with the phrase “Do your Own Research,” see Rob Mulholland’s You should do your own research (warning: offensive language).
The conspiracy theorists have it half right. You should do your research before believing anything you read. Here are some tips about how to separate fact from fiction, when virtually every claim has so-called experts all over the Internet.
- Is there self-interest from the person promoting something? Are they trying to bolster their business by selling you something? Are they opposing something that is in the public good, but not always in the best interest of every individual (think gas tax, COVID lockdowns)? If so, maybe they aren’t telling you the truth.
- What are the credentials of the person making the claim. Is this a physicist? Chemist? Biologist? Computer scientist? Does their background match the claims that they are making? A computer scientist who has an opinion about vaccines is likely no more qualified to offer an opinion on the subject than you are.
- Has the article you are reviewing been finished, submitted to recognized experts in the field, and verified? Or is it a “pre-press” article, released to share preliminary information before it is ready. Pre-press papers are circulated with good intentions, but if they are taken as fact, they may lead to erroneous conclusions. (For more information about how pre-press articles muddy the waters, see Science Takes Time: Understanding Information and Misinformation about COVID-19.)
- Is the journal you are reading from a legitimate journal? We cannot stress often enough that there are journals that look legitimate, but in which anyone can pay to get an article published. For more information on predatory journals, please see Research Before You Research – Predatory Journals.
- Verify the credentials of “experts.” During the pandemic, a leading doctor known for their background in immunization turned out to be a veterinarian. While the veterinarian may have been knowledgeable about immunization in pets, their understanding of human immunization may not be as valid as that of a medical doctor.
However, most importantly when you are researching, take off your blinders. Look at information that supports both positions of an argument. Read and question both the side you agree with and the opposing views. Evaluate the credibility of the source. Do your research but recognize that reading copious numbers of articles that indoctrinate you to a specific viewpoint is not actual research.