Oceanography in the 21st Century - An Online Textbook
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Using the Web

Many of the pages of this textbook point to web pages maintained by others. And, in your studies you will consult many web pages.

How do we know which pages on the web can be trusted?


How can I find information on the web?

  1. I use Google for most of my searches. I also use Scirus to help find scientific articles published in journals and elsewhere.
  2. Then I start looking at pages that appear to be useful, paying some attention to the URL.
  3. After I have found a good article, I add it to my bookmark list.
  4. If the article is available in pdf format, download it and store it in a folder of articles.

How do we know what material to trust?

  1. Who produced the material?
    • Material produced by an expert tends to be more trustworthy than material produced by others. But remember, even experts are biased: "Experts"—from criminologists to real-estate agents—use their informational advantage to serve their own agenda: From Freakonomics (2005).
    • Is there material at the site describing the author's credentials or experience?
    • Is the writer anonymous?

  2. Who uses the material?
    • Is it cited by others?
    • Is it linked from trustworthy sites?
    • Has the site won awards?

  3. Has the material been reviewed by peers?
    • Journal articles on the web from respected journals are peer reviewed.
    • Some journals are better than others. The best are Science and Nature.
    • Some web pages are reviewed by portals such as the Digital Library for Earth System Education DLESE
    • Some data sets and information may have been described in published articles cited by the site.

  4. Who hosts the page?
    • College, university, government, grammar school, commercial, or personal web site? Some domains such as .edu, .org, and .gov are good sources of scientific information.
    • Does the hosting organization have strong opinions? Most organizations are biased. This is neither good nor bad. We just need to be aware of biases. Greenpeace and the US National Marine Fisheries Service may have differing, but valid viewpoints.

  5. When was the web page last updated?
    • Some sites are many years old.
    • Oceanography is changing rapidly, and often more recent sites have the best information.

  6. False Friends, web pages that mimic scientific sites.
    • They may be hosted by a non-profit organization.
    • They appear to be written by an expert.
    • They have many references at the end of the article.
    • Yet the information is misleading or incorrect.
    • Sites offering medical advice, advice on diets or nutrition, or cures for common diseases sometimes fall into this category. They are written by medical doctors, they reference obscure journal articles, and they are hosted by the doctor's organization.
    • Consider the controversial topic of chelation therapy to cure clogged arteries. Compare the information on chelation therapy reviewed in an article in the American Heart Journal and a similar article by the American Heart Association with a bibliography of papers supporting chelation therapy by Dr. Elmer Cranton, Medical Director of Mount Ranier Clinic and his article on the Theoretical Mechanism... Who would you believe?

  7. Beware the Widely Quoted Statistic
    • Some statistics are widely quoted by many different authors, yet they may be incorrect or misleading.
    • What is the original source of the statistic?
    • Was the original source reliable.
    • Consider this statistic:

      Children from low-income households average just 25 hours of shared reading time with their parents before starting school, compared with 1,000 to 1,700 hours for their counterparts from middle-income homes.

      These oft-repeated numbers originate in a 1990 book by Marilyn Jager Adams titled, "Beginning to Read: Thinking And Learning About Print." Ms. Adams got the 25-hours estimate from a study of 24 children in 22 low-income families. For the middle-income figures, she extrapolated from the experience of a single child: her then-4-year-old son, John. She laid out her calculations and sources carefully over five pages, trying to make clear that she was demonstrating anecdotally the dramatic difference between the two groups.

      In the 17 years since then, at least a half-dozen child-advocacy groups, including United Way, Kids in Common and Everybody Wins, have boiled down those five pages into a single sentence, repeated in various forms, often without attribution to the original source. As is typical for such numbers, the child-reading stats have taken on a life of their own through a game of media telephone, with news articles usually attributing the numbers to one of these advocacy groups or to various researchers or foundations that themselves got the numbers from the Adams book.

      For her book, Ms. Adams drew on a 1986 study by William Teale and colleagues of low-income families in Southern California. Using his findings about reading time per child, she extrapolated to their time before entering school and averaged the total. Prof. Teale, who now teaches education at the University of Illinois, Chicago, says his findings couldn't be generalized to the overall population, nor did he ever make that claim: "We had way too small a sample."
      From Bialik (2007).

References

Bialik, C. (2007). It seems to exist, but how to measure class gap in reading? Wall Street Journal: B1.

Revised on: 3 August, 2009

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