Monday, December 21, 2009

Googling and Vetting

I found today's post by woodsiegirl pretty interesting. She's a librarian in a British law firm (I'm guessing). Apparently--as we know from our own behavior--it's not just kids and teens who fail to evaluate information online.

Entitled, "I'm sorry it doesn't exist," Woodsiegirl's post and others' comments describe how lawyers fall into the trap of thinking that anything they want is on Google and what they find there doesn't need to be scrutinized.

This comment by Jennie, who also works with attorneys, is particularly telling:

"(T)he amount of times I’ve had to deal with this!
The favourite is the “well, I found it on Google” option. Obviously, Google knows that Scots, English and many other laws are different, and will therefore give the location-appropriate results, yes?  No.
These are fully qualified legal professionals, yet they don’t even take 10 seconds to check jurisdiction of materials that they’re using. It’s kinda scary…

The recommendation put forth by Woodsiegirl is for information literacy skills to be introduced in primary school, "if we are to avoid having another generation grow up with no appreciation of how to find, evaluate and analyse information."

While it is scary that a lawyer may not be scrutinizing the relevance or accuracy of information for a case, I submit we all struggle with this same tendency. And we know better. That should be even scarier since the results could affect us directly and adversely.

Why the tendency to behave as if information googled is, practically speaking, the same as information vetted?  There could be a host of factors--and you are welcome to share your views on this--but I will limit my comments to two:
  1. Quick-serve information promotes a misperception that information is to be consumed quickly
  2. Published information has inherent value
Briefly, the first point is when we need information fast we tend to take it at face value. In and out. Hit it and move on to the next thing. We're busy and evaluation slows us down.  For me, this is a big reason why kids don't evaluate. Adults are no different. We don't want to have to slow down, especially when we can get our hands on so much information so fast.  One solution would be to take information from vetted sources. But that's often the problem: there may not be a vetted source. Just prolific ones.  Google may not have any plans to intervene where it concerns the credibility of the information it serves. That doesn't mean someone else won't eventually try.

The second point is one we adults learned in primary school that is hard to unlearn: if it exists in print some authority thinks it is good. Now that everyone (not just the teacher, editor or publisher) has authority, information should be suspect. We can only overcome this fault by using reason and constantly jolting ourselves back to our senses with examples of what happens when we don't evaluate what we read. Thanks for the reminder, Woodsiegirl!

Today's challenge: remember, information needs to be vetted.


Carl Heine said...

If you have stories that reveal a need to evaluate information online, I encourage you to post them. Examples of "worst practices" welcome!

woodsiegirl said...

Hi Carl, thanks for the link - glad you found my post interesting! I totally agree with both of your points, especially the second one - in my experience, younger solicitors tend to fal into the trap described in your first point, that all information is to be consumed quickly (older lawyers tend to have enough experience of trawling through books and print law reports to know that isn't the case); but the second applies to everyone, regardless of age. A large part of my job is identifying and promoting reliable sources of information; but it does feel like a bit of a thankless task occasionally when most people will never look at all of our carefully-constructed references guides!