Information is everywhere on the Internet, existing in large quantities and continuously being created and revised. This information exists in a large variety of kinds (facts, opinions, stories, interpretations, statistics)and is created for many purposes (to inform, to persuade, to sell, to present a viewpoint, and to create or change an attitude or belief). For each of these various kinds and purposes, information exists on many levels of quality or reliability. It ranges from very good to very bad and includes every shade in between.
Thus there is an extremely wide variety of material on the Internet, ranging in its accuracy, reliability, and value. Unlike most traditional information media (books, magazines, organizational documents), no one has to approve the content before it is made public. It's your job as a searcher, then, to evaluate what you locate, in order to determine whether it suits your needs.
How reliable are the conventional media like newspapers and Television channels as a source for any research or a quote. How reliable a source is depends on context. As a rule of thumb, the more people engaged in checking facts, analyzing legal issues, and scrutinizing the writing, the more reliable the publication. Sources should directly support the information as it is presented in an article and should be appropriate to the claims made.
Most of the organized media , especially those 'considered' reliable are valuable references for any history scholar. However considering the present times it would suit even him to verify and distinguish between fact and fiction. So there is a possibility of serious errors even in a presumably trusted source. Today most media houses are opinionated and has many affiliations , necessary for survival and hence may distort events or present them as there masters would love others to see.
Take the results of the present loksabha. we tried to give a statistical note on the results. This is what we wrote
STATE WISE REPRESENTATION IN THE UPA-2 MINISTRY
Separating the women from the men in the list was easy except it took time to include krishna tirith. The first time mp's should be read as first time ministers and that was from the media. since almost all media said the same we decided it as a source and did not cross check. Regarding the average age we took the date of birth and found age of each and made the average. it can be + or - 1 as the month of birth may or may not have passed May. For one or two we could not get the year and hence took the age from ibn live website. Regarding the religion, we initially wrongly included Napolean as a christian and we later corrected it. Take the following examples from the media reporting-;
1. Hindustan times dated 28/5/09
Here the total ministers from Tamilnadu is wrongly mentioned as 10 instead of 9. [ they included pondichery also i suppose] They forgot to mention Kharge also in the Dalit list. There are 34 new faces as per HT.
2. The Hindu dated 28/5/09.
It mentions in the last para that UP got three lower level ministries while it got 5.
3. Deccan Chronicle 28/5/2009 first page
While in first page it says 31 new comers, it mentions 25 new comers in it's seventh page
4. NDTV kept on mentioning that there are 3 Christian and 4 Muslim ministers and at least I did not hear their correction if at all they made it.
5. Even in TOI I noticed a discrepancy which I am not able to unearth now, but may do so and update later on.
The above are all very reputed dailies and the above words is not meant to and nor can they tarnish their repute. It is just to show case that mistakes can and does happen in all writings. So efforts has to be made to correct the ways.
Source evaluation--the determination of information quality--is something of an art. That is, there is no single perfect indicator of reliability, truthfulness, or value. Instead, you must make an inference from a collection of clues or indicators, based on the use you plan to make of your source.
THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT WE TRIED IN SPOTTING OUR SOURCE. WHILE LINKING THE NAMES OF THE MINISTERS WE CHOSE WIKIPEDIA FOR MOST OF THEM AS THE SOURCE WIKIPEDIA USED WAS FROM LOK SABHA AND ELECTION COMMISSION WEBSITES WHICH ARE AUTHENTIC SOURCES. ONLY IF WE COULD NOT FIND WIKI WE CHOSE OTHER SOURCE AND IN CASE THE MINISTERS HAD PERSONAL WEB PAGES WE RIGHTLY CHOSE THEM AS LINKS.
Not only were the sources identified and details taken out, verified wherever feasible and corrected as and when errors found, all this was done with in two hours of the ministry announcement. While all dailies had a day with them. And in spite of they having so many sources, man power, machines and libraries, there were mistakes.
The provocation for this article is an article in Times of India today- Tread with Caution which erroneously declares that all blogs and 'dubious' websites are a strict no no as a reference for research. Quoting an instance, there is an attempt to prove that Wikipedia is very unreliable. There is also a quote form a volunteer for wikipedia who almost justifies it by saying
Ravi Shankar, a volunteer for Wikipedia, says that people should realise that the Internet is only a starting point for your research. “Even though, we try to maintain the credibility of the posts in Wikipedia, there is always the risk of someone posting a false information. Our volunteers do remove such false posts within a few hours, but till then, the post remains online with a disclaimer that says that the fact is yet to be verified. It is on good faith that we allow anyone to post and try to present a well-balanced account on any subject. But, some vandals cannot be avoided,” he says.
“When your research is of a serious nature, you just can’t stop with online sources. They still do not have the credibility of an encyclopedia or any other printed source. There is a reason why they’re not allowed to be quoted as references in project reports and thesis,” concludes Ravi Shankar.
A study in 2005 suggested that for scientific articles Wikipedia came close to the level of accuracy of Encyclopædia Britannicaand had a similar rate of "serious errors.Also see Snared in the Web of a Wikipedia Liar
"The best defense of the Wikipedia, frankly, is to point out how much bad information is available from supposedly reliable sources."And what followed after above: Wikipedia survives research test
The free online resource Wikipedia is about as accurate on science as the Encyclopedia Britannica, a study shows
Universities have long questioned the reliability of information posted and edited on Wikipedia. Marketing officials in UK universities monitor the information on the site because it can affect institutional reputations, acting as an alternative university guide. Some American colleges have gone a step further and banned undergraduates from citing the website in their research papers. Middlebury College, in Vermont,proscribed citations from Wikipedia in January 2007.
But still wikipedia is one of most frequently visited site and has many valuable materials in it. One way to proceed is to look for references in the wikipedia and to directly access them and validate the data. It need not necessarily be the proof, but the tail of it.
There are so many who are spending hours in doing their own research and presenting reliable facts in the web and to paint all of them in the same brush is a big mistake.
Gathering reliable information is very difficult in India as there are very few such sources. One should use his prudence and try to cross check multiple times before a conclusion.
Blogs are normally not considered reliable because they do not have copyrights and do not reveal their true identity and do not take responsibility for their writings. But a certain boldness and attitude of some bloggers make them more reliable than even the conventional media who are now a days chained by compulsions of income.
So the common The CARS Checklist (Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, Support) approach may hold for scientific data search or similar but for local issues and similar data, CARS do not hold.