Please Use Credible Sources: Entitled to Our Own Opinion, But Not Our Own Facts

Credible Sources

Dr. David Childs, D.D., Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University


Does living in a democratic society where everyone has a voice entitle us to our own facts? Of course not. With the pandemic worsening and becoming more contagious as a result of the Delta Variant and enough people not taking it seriously it is ever more important for us to get the facts right. I recently read a quote on social media by an unknown author that stated, “polio and smallpox never reached herd immunity, they were eradicated by vaccines.” Perhaps this sheds light on the strength of well-researched scientific findings. But even with this information many people in the US are not convinced that scientific knowledge is reliable.

Hunt for Credible Sources
A January 2021 Democracy and Me article entitled “The Hunt for Credible Sources: Recovering from the Pandemic of Fake News” discusses the dangers of misinformation and not having valid sources to support findings. The article states, “anyone that spends any reasonable amount of time on Facebook or other social media outlets would notice that there is an abundance of websites that offer false information. In a recent search on information about the past election I came across countless articles citing false information, many which relied on wild conspiracy theories including QAnon, voter fraud theories and perhaps worst of all, the belief that COVID-19 is a hoax.” A more recent stream of false information now acknowledges that the coronavirus is real but that masks do not work, and the vaccine is dangerous. It is of the utmost importance that students and society in general can adequately differentiate between valid and invalid sources. If we do not have reliable information, it can lead us to make uninformed decisions that can adversely affect every aspect of our lives; indeed, disinformation can impact us politically, socially and economically. If people get information wrong as it relates to the pandemic it can have dire effects on our civilization. 

What Makes Valid Research
A 2019 Democracy and Me article entitled “What Makes Valid Research? How to Verify if a Source is Credible on the Internet” further elaborates on the topic of the importance of valid sources.

“Computer and digital technology have increased at an astounding rate within the last several decades. With the advent of various informational Internet resources such as social media, online articles, books and so forth many people purport to do thorough research but lack the understanding of what research means. The advent of search engines has given everyone the illusion that they have done research and are experts on a particular topic. In reality, people simply pull information from unreliable sources, thinking that they have researched a topic thoroughly. What makes a source not reliable? What makes certain information unreliable and untrustworthy?

What is research?
Research should involve a thorough reading and analysis of an adequate number of sources on a given subject. One does not have to have a college degree to do research. But the proper time should be devoted in order to draw valid conclusions that can be held up as reliable research. As a side note, some information cannot be obtained without proper research methodologies and even research tools. Examples of this is research in the natural sciences such as biology, chemistry, or physics, or in the social sciences in areas such as history, economics or sociology. With the hard sciences one must conduct countless experiments to arrive at certain conclusions that cannot be obtained by simply reading a lot of Internet articles and watching videos. Furthermore, to do valid historical work one must study many reliable primary sources or conduct countless interviews with people who were present during a certain time period the historian is studying. So, in this way, valid natural or social science experiments cannot be replaced by reading a few articles on the Internet. At the very least, one can read the work of experts who have devoted their life to research in a particular subject. There is no shortcut for conducting research on a topic thoroughly and adequately.”

The current debate over masks and vaccines has to do with many people’s lack of trust in science and well-established institutions. However, the implications for those opinions and even decisions can be fatal. That is, if the delta variant continues to spread, lives will continue to be lost. And I think we can all agree that this is a steep price to pay, simply to hold on to our opinion. A price none of us want to pay.