These days, you can never be too careful about the information you’re getting and what conclusions to draw from it. To celebrate the release of their new book EVERYDATA, authors John H. Johnson, PhD, and Mike Gluck answered some questions for us about being vigilant about the little bits of data we’re taking in every day.
In your opinion, what are some of the most dangerous sources of misinformation?
We wouldn’t say “dangerous,” per se—but you should certainly watch for sources of misinformation that have an agenda. If someone is trying to sell you something—whether it’s a product, a service, an idea, or even themselves (we’re looking at you, political candidates), it’s important to take a close look at what they are (and aren’t) telling you. Sometimes it’s obvious when someone has an agenda, but not always.
In today’s culture of clickbait and quick browsing on the internet, do you feel there’s a responsibility on content creators to be as honest as possible in their headlines?
From a data standpoint, of course we want content creators to be not just honest but accurate and representative in their headlines (and all of the content they create, for that matter). That said, when you’re reading something online, consider that the content creator may have other responsibilities—to generate web traffic, perhaps, or to gather leads, or to deliver a complex story in 140 characters or less.
Given the advent of satirical news sources like The Onion and The Daily Currant (and many others which may or may not be entirely clear about being parodies), how can people be proactive about making sure they’re getting real information?
We would hope that parody sites are labeled well enough to alert the reader that the content is meant to be satirical, but it’s often a good practice to read more about the website you’re viewing to understand where the content is coming from. Of course, it’s not just parody sources that disseminate misinformation. We’ve seen (and written about) dozens of cases in which traditional news outlets and others have misrepresented information. Our advice is simple: keep digging, ask questions, and know where the information is coming from and who is sharing it. If it’s an article about a research report, look at the original report. The more you dig into the source of the information, in our experience, the more success you’ll have in being an educated consumer of data.