I teach college classes in various subjects for a couple of large institutions, and one thing I’ve noticed that most if not all students share in common is…
Students are almost universally addicted to 1) Google and 2) Wikipedia.
Now, on the surface, there’s nothing wrong with either of these institutions. The first does a great job of searching and indexing just about everything visible on the Internet, and the second aggregates general information and knowledge like no other site.
But, whoa! Google by its nature is going to uncover untrustworthy sites as well as the reputable ones, while Wikipedia is an open source where anyone can change anything at anytime. Therefore, it too requires screening for validity.
What to do?
Here’s what I advise my students (few listen, but that’s another story): Use scholar.google.com (or just stick to the university’s online library, which offers already validated, scholarly databases). Alternately, subscribe to an online service such as Questia, which also does the parsing for you in advance. Finally, when using Wikipedia, rely on it only for general information and links to other sources and never, ever cite it or use it as a reference in an essay.
Simple steps, but few bother to follow them, preferring to remain creatures of habit. It’s not surprising, then, when I read papers that rely on Joe Blogger’s opinion of the Iranian nuclear project, that we have a credibility issue.
There are bigger student sins, of course, including plagiarism and buying papers from Web sites with innovative names such as “cheat (fill in the next word).com” and “thesis-statement (fill in the next word).com” and so on.
However, I recommend to all of you looking for reliable information for whatever research you’re doing, for yourself, for school or for work, to rely on the sources and strategies I’ve outlined here. They’ll get you to reputable results pronto.