Saturday, February 9, 2013

They don't know what they don't know.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect abounds today in the Information Age. In a previous life, I was a librarian and most of my job was research. To those who claim "everything is on the Internet," I must respectfully disagree. The fact is that only a small portion of mankind's knowledge can be found on the free Internet according to assessments by academicians.

Much of mankind's accumulated information will never be available on what we know commonly as "the free Internet." The reality is that it would be too expensive to digitize everything, not to speak of time-consuming. Much of mankind's knowledge can only be found in archival libraries that will not be scanned into digitized versions. One must visit the source where the information is housed. "A significant amount of archival material held by The New York Public Library is not yet represented anywhere online." An essay written by a librarian at Harvard is also very revealing.

When I refer to the "free Internet," I mean those sites that can be searched through Dr. Google. When we consider the expensive subscription databases available through University libraries, Public Libraries and specialty medical, legal, scientific libraries, or government collections, they can't be searched through search engines. Anyone doing serious research must go to those specialty collections sources to find accurate, reliable, peer-reviewed, well-researched data. Joining a local public library gives patrons access to extensive, and expensive databases that have unique search tools. Access to University libraries often require membership fees if one isn't a student.

Some primary source databases are only available through the "Deep Web" or the invisible web unless you want to pay for a private subscription. We've all heard the axiom, "It's worth what you pay for it." That is a good maxim to keep in mind when we are looking at information. When we evaluate information, we need to consider from whence it came, especially in secondary sources, lest we get led down the garden path to wherever propagandists wish to lead us.

To make a long story short as we like to do in the information age, it is always useful to ask ourselves who wrote the information, what are their qualifications and what is their agenda? Primary source or secondary source? Sources, sources, sources--some are better than others.

As Dr. Samuel Johnson said,

"Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information on it."
    Samuel Johnson, quoted in Boswell's Life of Johnson
    English author, critic, & lexicographer (1709 - 1784)


  1. That is good information to keep in mind when searching for something online. Usually what I'm looking for is so general that Dr. Wikipedia is usually good enough for me! :-)

  2. Good to know this, RJ. I suppose as a research librarian, you would know where to find stuff.

  3. Getting information whether online or in person requires us to keep an open mind and use our best judgment. Just as we can't believe everything in print as solid truth, we need to apply the same logic to searching the internet. People send me things often and I take time to find out if they are true or fantasy, or just a good story. Always glad to read your good sense posts.

  4. The problem with getting information on the Internet is knowing if it is a creditable source. Several times I looked up things before I was going to do a post about it and my own blog showed up. That's terrible. I'm not a good source! Everytime I say something to my son he asks, "Who is your source?"