Internet Sources

James McGrath mentions students who use unreliable sources on the internet. Tom Verenna complains about students who copy straight from wikipedia, links and all.

Sounds like some of the commentors we’ve seen here.

The problem is, as the web expands and fragments into scenes and factions, it gets harder to tell who is reliable and who isn’t. If you’re new to a debate, which side do you trust? If you even know there are sides?

There’s a case now in Virgina where a textbook about the American Civil War claimed that thousands of blacks had served as soldiers in the Confederate army. This goes completely against our understanding of the Confederacy; most Confederate leaders were hell-bent on keeping the guns out the the hands of slaves.

When pressed for her sources, the author mentioned primarily internet sites, including research done by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group dedicated to the myth of the lost cause. There is no accusation of bias against the author, it seems that she was merely guilty of trusting a source that shouldn’t have been trusted.

Keith Olbermann has the story (this was before his suspension [edit: and reinstatement. Was that an indefinite suspension or a long weekend?]):

Carol Sheriff wants to use this as an example of what to look out for when you’re doing research. Via blogger Greenflame, I see that the Wabash Center has produced a number of study guides on how to evaluate web content.

Being Agent Scully
Bob Cargill on the Holy Grail
The Great Commoner
The Dome Overhead
  • Jabster

    I think there’s a large difference between using Wiki as a source for “facts” in this type of forum and as a researcher i.e. one’s ok and one’s not. Saying that see:

    • Darwin

      That is a pretty good link. I’ve looked through some of them and most of the changes seem to have been made to the entries of public figures.

  • Danny Wuvs Kittens

    I think its important to check the sources on wikipedia, or anything, hell, even; fuck, especially shit on tv, newspaper, etc. Get in the habit of recognizing when someone makes a claim, and then making sure that claim is backed up by fact.

    ESPECIALLY with studies. Goddamn studies. There seems like so many studies that are 100% fabricated just to produce a result. Its hard to find legitimate ones, so check that shit the fuck out too.

  • nazani14

    I think there were ‘some’ Blacks who fought with the Rebs, just as there was a Black captain of a slave ship. Too bad nobody wrote down why these folks acted the way they did. There are people without health care who want to repeal the current health care bill.

    Hint: Never trust any source with “heritage” in its title.

  • Mike R

    When I was finishing my Bachelor’s a while back, I used Wikipedia as an initial starting point for ideas and sources. I never used it as a primary source, even if it seemed correct or ended up being correct. Someone could come in and change it by the time the professor might decide to verify my sources. When in college, you have access to standard library resources, including peer reviewed journals and legitimate studies through academic databases. I’d always find the original source, even though it was present in one of these trusted databases.

  • LRA

    Everyone (pretty much) knows that my three favorite online sources are:

    The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Free!!!!)
    PubMed (some articles are free and some require subscription)
    The Oxford English Dictionary (requires a subscription for use)

    with an honorable mention of Talk Origins.

    I also try to limit my searches to .edu websites if I’m in strange territory (like political science or economics), but occasionally I get lazy and go to a wiki to get started. Why not? It’s a good starting place.

    • Levi

      Thanks for the tip on the SEP – an excellant resource

      • LRA

        The SEP rocks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        • WMDKitty

          For those who are too busy (or lazy) to Google it:

          And now I’m off to feed my brain.

    • Custador

      If I used Wiki as a reference for an academic essay I think I’d be expelled. That said, there’s nothing wrong with checking the citations on Wiki and using them instead if they’re reliable – knowing how to be discerning about sources is part of being academic, as you know :-)

      • LRA

        Fo’ sho’.

  • hippiefemme

    This is why librarians exist! It astounds me that people don’t take advantage of their local reference librarians more often. A critical part of their jobs involves working with bibliographies and verification of sources.

  • mikespeir

    If you can’t trust Wikipedia, then who can you trust, huh?

  • Peter Cross

    Some in the seat of power are similarly given to using unreliable sources. Michele Bachmann, who for crying out loud just got re-elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, latched onto an erroneous report about the cost of President Obama’s trip to India.

  • Thegoodman

    We tend to take information for granted.

    Who cares if a few slaves were convinced to fight for the confederacy? Its not like they watched CNN every night and knew what the war was about.

    Look at our current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan; we don’t even know what the point of those wars are and we have reporters doing live coverage from the areas of conflict. Imagine how inaccurate, late, and false the information was that was passed on to slaves by their owners/managers/overseers.

    “Take this gun and shoot the guys in the blue uniforms; if you don’t they will murder you and your family and I won’t be here to feed you and keep you safe.”

    Sounds like a good reason to fight to me.

    • Yoav

      “Take this gun and shoot the guys in the blue uniforms; if you don’t they I will murder you and your family and I won’t be here to feed you and keep you safe.”
      More likely.

      • Thegoodman

        I understand your point but I find it unlikely.

        I know little to nothing about slaves or how to maintain them; but the only way I can imagine it working for any amount of time is brainwashing your slaves into thinking that they are completely dependent on your support. Similar to the way that polygamist compounds are run; the best way to limit a persons freedom is to limit the freedom of their mind.

        Movies/books tend to paint slave owners as abusive tyrants. While this is true from a verbal psychological standpoint, I cannot imagine it being effective long term. The punishment was certainly physical, but threats don’t get you very far.

        Don’t mistake my words, slavery represents the worst aspect of humanity and I am ashamed of my race (and species for that matter) for having done it. I just think its interesting to think about how a few men could contain hundreds of slaves.

        • burpy

          Virtually every race did it and its still going on, practically as strong as ever.

        • WMDKitty

          “…the only way I can imagine it working for any amount of time is brainwashing your slaves into thinking that they are completely dependent on your support.”

          Which is EXACTLY how abusers work.

  • Michael

    I’m going to be honest, I think this whole situation was handled pretty reasonably. It really was just a single sentence in the book that was found to be at fault, and the school system seems to be warning teachers not to teach that sentence. Admittedly, that does bring the rest of the book into question, but seeing as it is already in use, they will have to wait quite a while before considering switching books anyway.

  • Billy

    I was one of the 250,000 people to sign the petition that got Olbermann back, I’m glad he’s back. As for black confederate soldiers…’re kidding me, right?

    • WMDKitty

      That’s nothing. I once saw a black man dressed as a cowboy, sporting the confederate flag. O_O;

  • Kingasaurus

    I remember distinctly from Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary, that at the very end the South was so desperate for soldiers, that they accepted some blacks into the Confederate army, for the promise of their freedom when the war was over.
    The Confederate government was split on the idea, with the naysayers convinced that if blacks made good soldiers, then their entire race theory was wrong. Practicality won out, though it made no difference in the end.

    I’m certainly willing to be corrected, but I don’t think I imagined hearing about it.