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COVID-19: Avoiding Misinformation and Conducting Credible Research

This guide intends to offer a bit of guidance on where to look for credible information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as how to avoid misinformation where possible.

Information Literacy and COVID-19

We can approach researching the COVID-19 pandemic in much the same way we might any topic: develop and apply fundamental information literacy skill sets to locate, evaluate, and synthesize credible information to better inform your own response to the situation at hand. Using guidance from the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), we can consider the six core tenets discussed in their Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education. Three of these tenets are particularly useful for such a topic:

  • Authority is constructed and contextual​
    • ​Credibility and expertise inform the level of authority held by individuals, organizations, or publications. Different communities or groups may establish a given information source as the definitive voice for their needs. This does not imply that facts are negotiable currency; rather, be mindful of the current information need and consider where best to attain that data. For example, while you may look to an academic, peer-reviewed journal as an authoritative source examining pandemic response, the timely nature of the data may suggest giving credence to raw data from a government source (or not!). It's a fluid process, and requires the researcher to constantly evaluate not only the content in front of them, but the source of the data as well. 
  • Information has value
    • ​Looking for peer-reviewed, scientifically written articles is a great way to obtain credible information. However, taking a close look at non-scholarly sources can be informative to the research process as well. It's valuable, for example, to chronicle terms, headlines, and data presented by news outlets that are considered to have a particular political lean. Viewing articles hosted on Think Tanks (Brookings Institute, Heritage Foundation, etc.) might be helpful to understand patterns in narratives, rhetoric, and public opinion during the pandemic.
  • Searching as strategic exploration
    • ​While researchers often begin with a question or theory that needs testing, researching requires some strategy in its implementation. Flexibility throughout that process is key, as one needs to adapt new ideas, terms, and viewpoints that may alter the initial course they set out on. This may involve exploring publications or websites outside of disciplines the researcher is familiar with, as well as being open to new jargon or professional terminologies that illuminate new questions, solutions, or topics altogether. At this stage in exploring the COVID-19 pandemic, it is incredibly important to experiment with a mixture of terms (i.e. SARS-CoV-2, cornoavirus, Wuhan virus, etc.), in a variety of academic and popular source types. Take note of who is using what term, and how they leverage it. A researcher can learn much about the author's purpose and intended audience of a given information source by not just reading what is written, but how it is presented as well.

Rather than visiting as many websites as you can in what ever order your search engine of choice presents them, consider viewing content according to your current information needs. This guide will focus on presenting a few recommended sources in the context of these tenets. Credible information is desirable, but is there something else we can learn about the pandemic by looking for more than a list of numbers/talking points? For example, do we need information from a global authority to gain a broader perspective? Local authority? Do we need to pointedly examine the rhetoric being used by a news or entertainment outlet?  

One of the six tenets of the Framework, Scholarship as Conversation, reminds the researcher that one of the key goals in practicing information literacy skills is to maintain a disposition toward respectful and constructive conversation. Conducting research on COVID-19 will involve the consideration of, at times, conflicting perspectives and interpretations of data and policy moving forward. Considering the perspective of scholars and other professionals across a variety of disciplines will yield a more robust understanding of the pandemic, as well as ensure that multiple methodologies and evidences are being consulted. This helps maintain perspective that will foster an intent to have constructive, academic conversations that work toward useful solutions rather than simply an exchange of uninformed rhetoric confirming biases and agenda.