Thinking Critically about Sources of Information 1
Robert J. Swartz
We find out about many things without witnessing them ourselves. When we do, we rely on others as sources of information. We read about things in newspapers and magazines that we did not observe ourselves. We hear about events on television. Other people tell us about things that they've witnessed directly, but we didn't.
We also rely on other sources for more specialized information. We sometimes consult sources for technical and/or general information that we may not be in a position to verify ourselves, like the usefulness of certain medications in treating illnesses or the correct translation of a foreign language passage.
The reliability of such information is extremely important to us. We often make key decisions based on it. We get certain medications for illnesses based on what a physician says. We make travel plans based on information we get from others. Misinformation in these contexts can be costly indeed. People are often surprised to find out how much information we get from other sources and how much we depend on its being reliable
Unfortunately, we sometimes do get misinformation from others. Deliberate deception or distortion is one source of misinformation. However, sometimes well-meaning people, who are unaware of the inaccuracy of their information, pass it on to us. They may make hasty judgments themselves, or their sources may not be sufficiently reliable. Sometimes their bases transform what they hear into subtle changes of meaning that are then unwittingly communicated