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Q & A: Truth is humor, humor truth....

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Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
How do you know if the information on some websites are accurate? When I looked on a different site to find the answer to the same question, it was a different answer!
- 20050131141222
WA
A:
Hi Inna- I hope you donít mind that I combined your two questions.

Obviously, the way to see if a Web site is reliable is to see if it's funny. If they don't have a sense of humor, donít trust them.

Seriously, thereís no quick way to see who is reliable. You can see if the answers are logically consistent. If not, they must be wrong and the people who wrote them are not thinking hard about what theyíre doing.

Is the answer something that can be derived from basic scientifc laws? Once you learn them, you can check a lot of things that way. Of course, sometimes people have to say that the old laws are wrong, but at least they should know thatís what theyíre saying, and acknowledge it.

You can look over a big collection of the answers, and see if some are obviously wrong. That tells you to be suspicious of the ones you don't already know about. Sometimes, you can actually test answers yourself- say ones about bubbles in soda cans, or freezing salt water. If a site gets those screwed up, I wouldnít count on it to get the structure of the universe right.

Iíve probably left out a bunch of other methods. Do the owners of the Web site want your money? Have they ever been convicted of mail fraud?

Of course there can be positive signs too. Is the site run by a reputable institution, like a major university or government lab? Do the people working on it have major scientific credentials, including published papers in leading journals?

None of these provide a sure answer. Good scientists can get kooky. Scoundrels can tell the truth.

People sometimes give cut-and-dried little rules about how science finds truth, but really itís a no-holds barred fight. Use whatever evidence you can get your hands on.


Mike W.

(published on 10/22/2007)

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