I am posting a draft of an introduction to doing research online and hope for comments and suggestions for revisions. I viewed a TED talk on how journalists must navigate the net while looking to verify news stories and decided to use this as an illustration of the pitfalls of unrestricted use of the internet as a source in the Humanities. My teaching technique is often to come at issues from a different and unexpected perspective to grab the attention of students.
TED talk on journalism on the net
In this course, you will learn a number of things – many specific details about religion and religions and spirituality of course. But underneath the facts presented and the hypotheses discussed, you will acquire, or fine tune certain skills.
One of these skills you must master in order to be an historian, is the ability to weigh evidence in a balance to discern whether it is true or not. You will be using a variety of sources for understanding human issues in the past and the present – online journal articles, books, parts of books, web sites, dictionaries, encyclopedias.
In the library site there are research tools to find such sources – some of the tools allow you to restrict your searches to what are called peer-reviewed sources – or scholarly sources. Peer-reviewed generally means that the article or book, prior to publication has been read and debated by at least three other scholars who are experts in this area of history – as well as a journal or book publisher editor – so at least four people – not counting the technical corrections done by a copy editor – who sometimes also find errors of fact or opinion and comment on them.
But what do you do when you encounter – as you will – sources which are not peer-reviewed?
Well, watch this video of a TED talk on how modern journalists handle data provided in real time by the internet – twitter, youtube, etc. While it does not deal with ‘religion’, it does deal with a deliberate and careful attempt to ascertain ‘truth’ in evidence. As most of you know, it is easy to post fake data on the net – there is no peer-review process in place, except for a new handful of online peer-reviewed journals.