chapter  9
24 Pages

Evaluating Information

Although people make evaluations all the time, evaluations of information can be challenging. The reason is that we have to know quite a bit about a given body of information before we can construct a meaningful evaluation. At the heart of this issue is a question raised in chapter 5 regarding facts. Determining what is a fact can be difficult, yet we all have a tendency to accept published information as factual. One of the more notorious examples comes from research published in the 1960s and 1970s showing that smoking cigarettes was not harmful or unhealthy. Many people accepted this research simply because it was published, but a more critical examination would have revealed that the research was funded by various tobacco companies that clearly had a strong interest in deflecting any concerns about the link between cigarette smoke and cancer. You therefore would be wise to resist uncritical acceptance of information. Keep in mind the old saying: "Statistics are the last refuge of scoundrels." It isn't enough, therefore, to know what the information is. To produce a useful evaluation of information a writer must also know something about who collected the information as well as why, how, and when it was collected and distributed. Stated another way, a writer needs information about the information before undertaking an evaluation.