Let’s talk about CRAAP! As noted in a previous post, Sarah Blakeslee coined the “CRAAP Test” in an article they wrote for Loex Quarterly (a Librarian trade publication) in 2004. This test is a widely used method for quickly analyzing information sources. “CRAAP” is an anagram for “Currency, Relevancy, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose.” In this post, I will briefly summarize each aspect and how it’s generally used. Stay tuned to future posts that will be further dedicated to each aspect.
Bell, Book & SCANDAL, anyone?
Everyday, we are confronted with dubious information in these Internet times. Social media makes it particularly easy to share information, even if it’s false. At first glance, information sources can be judged by two aspects: the title and the author. We almost always notice these bits of information first, well before we read the article itself. Unfortunately, most people don’t read entire articles anymore, which is one reason why so much misinformation is circulated. We all know someone who’s shared an article without reading it and it usually didn’t end well.
How many of us have shared an article based on its title alone? We usually see this behavior when an article title pisses someone off and they want everyone to know about it. These days, we call this behavior “outrage.” Outrage culture is built from our desire to be scandalized but it can morph into a toxic behavior pattern, according to this article on NPR. These days, it can seem like outrage is dominating the connection we have to our world and with one another.
Scandal is entertainment and it makes a lot of money. Scandal also distracts us from the reality of what’s going on in our world. According to this article in Psychology Today, “Scandals allow us, through fantasy, to vicariously experience an “other” life, while leaving us reassured that we are better off in our ordinary, non-scandalous existence.” In other words, do you wish to live deliciously? But only vicariously through someone else? A much less sexy proposition, if you ask me.
Imagine a person actually read an article instead of just clicking “share” because of the title. They might see when the article was published, which helps determine its currency. A few people in the pagan community recently circulated an article from 2018 on “pagans outnumbering Presbyterians in the U.S.” The article, published on the DailyMail website, is based off Pew Research Center data from a survey conducted in 2014. Six years ago! But the information is being shared like it’s brand-new! *palm to forehead*
Timeliness is an important attribute to consider because some information becomes obsolete after a period of time. Outdated factual information, like scientific research, is a good example of what information obsolescence can look like. For example, Pluto was a planet when I was a kid but was reclassified (read: demoted!) to “dwarf planet” in 2006. Demographic data, like that found in the Pew Research survey, is another example of information that becomes outdated after a period of time. It’s been over half a decade since those results were published about pagans outnumbering Presbyterians. And, yet, a few pagans are still clinging to the data like a dingleberry.
Sharing a 2018 article that was based on 2014 data is irresponsible and lazy. To be clear, older information isn’t bad information, but it should instead be analyzed for its historical context. Old shit isn’t bad shit – it just needs to be contextualized.
Determining relevancy requires two things: an understanding of how the information is relevant to a topic and how it’s relevant to your own research. An article might have one sentence dedicated to your research topic. However, does it, as a whole, add anything of value to your research? For example, let’s say I’m researching alpaca husbandry. This article published in Nature on the biomechanics of camelids’ foot pads is fascinating but it doesn’t answer my question about how to raise alpacas. The only relevant aspect of this article to my research is that it is about camelids. Does the article’s lack of relevancy to my topic make it a bad article? No. It’s just irrelevant to my research.
A couple of questions we can ask ourselves before reading an article are: “Who wrote this? Do they have the authority to speak on this subject?”
Figuring out whether or not a person has authority in their field is a relatively easy task. Nearly every person can be searched on the Internet, including their credentials. Book and academic article authors are the easiest to determine because their credentials are usually listed within the published work. Authors who publish online on legitimate sites are usually the next easiest to suss out. These sites usually hyperlink their authors’ names to a biography page dedicated to that author. If not then it’s worth doing a quick Internet search to see what crops up with the author’s name.
Credentials aren’t always about educational degrees, though. A person’s experience in their field is an important factor to consider. Experiential knowledge is usually the most important factor in determining authority in the pagan community. A newb’s 2 years of experience is not as authoritative as a High Priest’s 25 years in paganism. It can be difficult to research pagans, though, because many of us use magical names instead of our legal ones. In that case, it may be wise to ask other people what they know of an author.
In the Gardnerian Wicca community, we use a “vouch” system for our initiates. Anyone claiming initiation or running a coven can be checked against this system by either asking a known initiate or asking for a vouch on the Gardnerian Wicca Seekers and Initiates Facebook group. While this vouch system doesn’t claim that a person is not an asshole, it does either validate or invalidate their claim for initiation.
Testing information against its accuracy involves doing a little research. If an article states something as “fact” then that fact should be backed up with a citation. Citations are digital or physical paper trails to sources of information. Do you remember having to write a “Works Cited” or “Bibliography” page for your school papers? We had to list the author, title, publication, etc. as citations for our research. Citations are used to prove where you got your information. Citing sources of information helps validate the claims an author is making. If a person can’t prove their claims with good, verifiable evidence then alarm bells should be ringing in your head.
Not all articles are written to share facts, however. Some articles, like op-eds, social media posts, and blog posts are usually created to share opinions. Opinions are not facts! And, for the record, there’s no such thing as a “alternative fact.” Something either is or is not a fact. There’s no alternative.
Honestly, the best way to determine the purpose of a piece of information is to read it in its entirety. Make the judgement call for why it exists after you’ve gotten the entire story. But, it’s still possible to understand the purpose by glancing at the language used in the article. Is the purpose to simply share information? or is it meant to entertain? Is it written for academic audiences or for everyday readers? Is it a research article or an opinion piece? Does the author use specialized language, like in an academic source, or everyday language?
Click-bait titles are dead giveaways that the articles aren’t written to share factual information. Articles that have to use click-bait to get people to notice them are meant to sway a person’s feelings regarding a certain topic. This is where the outrage comes in. Reflect on the language used in the article – is it free of emotion and bias? If not then think hard before you share it with others.
Hopefully this post gives you some good ideas about approaching information with a discerning eye. It’s much easier than it may seem at first glance.