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Last week I touched upon the idea of cross-checking sources. What happens, though, when sources conflict with one another?
Bråten, Braasch, Strømsø, and Ferguson (2015) looked at this question. They had students read six documents offering different views on a scientific issue. Document types ranged from a textbook excerpt to a popular science article to a debate article (p. 326).
Specifically the documents concerned cell phone use and cancer. Student participants wrote an essay on the topic. The researchers looked at how they used the six sources in those essays (Bråten et al, 2015, pp. 329-330).
Then participants rank-ordered the documents for trustworthiness and offered the rationale for their rankings. The authors grouped the rationale statements into content reasons, author reasons (based on the author’s background or intent), document reasons (based on the document’s type or purpose), publication reasons (based on the specific publication’s reputation or purpose), and personal reasons.
I’ll need to read the article in more depth to fully process the results. All the same we can learn much by thinking about different source types and different evaluation criteria.
Bråten, I., Braasch, J.L.G., Strømsø, H.I., & Ferguson, L. E. (2015). Establishing trustworthiness when students read multiple documents containing conflicting scientific evidence. Reading Psychology, 36(4), 315-349. doi: 10.1080/02702711.2013.864362