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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.

Who has the facts? Who has earned the distinction of "Authority" on a given issue?

Often in this guide, the ACRL (Association fof College & Research Libraries) is mentioned as a reference point for best practices in conducting research, with pointed references to their Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education . This is a rather large organization established by and composed of academic librarians in the United States, and it is the largest division of the American Library Association (ALA). At some point in the research process, it is up to the individual to recognize established organizations that prove themselves to be a major force in driving the creation of policy, best practices, and standardization of terminology and pedagogy in a given field of study. This is true regarding information literacy and the field of information science. The ACRL and its tenets of literacy drive the pedagogy of academic librarians, but that can't happen if the librarian does not grant at least some credence and authority to this entity's own history, publications, and credentialed members. 

The ACRL defines determining authoritative voice as the following:

Authority Is Constructed and Contextual

Information resources reflect their creators’ expertise and credibility, and are evaluated based on the information need and the context in which the information will be used. Authority is constructed in that various communities may recognize different types of authority. It is contextual in that the information need may help to determine the level of authority required.

That said, a researcher in any field must learn to recognize the entities and individuals who have earned and demonstrate credibility in the context of their discipline. Just remember to focus on the type of information you need at the moment, then consider what individuals, groups, or established organization might be a logical source for that information. The COVID-19 pandemic is and will be a source for multidisciplinary research, such as viirology, epidemiology, economic impact studies, ethical responses, rhetoric studies, and many more. When you choose to include a source in your own argument or research, their credibility becomes your credibility. 

New authorities might be created daily in this crisis. The first-hand account of nurse expressing concerns over shortage of medical equipment might be more valuable in a specific situation than even a set of data projections on equipment shortage from the CDC...or the inverse might be true. It's up to the researcher to evaluate the credentials of the author/speaker, acknowledge if there is authority granted to that speaker due to said credentials, then validate that authority by synthesizing it into one's own information creation process.

Research and the Rhetorical Triangle...

One of the fundamental principles taught when learning to compose a narrative is that of the rhetorical triangle

(image courtesy of WikiMedia Commons)

These terms refer to the speaker (ethos), message (logos), and audience (pathos). In the context of the research process, it is vital to apply this model to evaluating resources as you encounter them. The ethos refers to the "ethics", or credibility, of the author. Consider the credentials of the speaker, and how that informs the authority of that individual/entity. Does their degree, time active in a professional capacity, or other applicable skill set grant them an authoritative ethos in this issue? Is their message, or logos, written or presented in a format meant to inform or sway a reader? If meant to persuade, does the rhetoric within feel as if an attempt is being made to play on the emotions of the reader in a malicious way? Is it written with a sense of empathy? Does it seem to be an appeal to the reader's critical thinking ability to reach a verifiable, evidence-based solution? The way the data is presented or a piece is written might illuminate the author's (ethos) intended audience (pathos), or the desired disposition the reader hopes to put the reader in. 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as beyond, one needs to apply careful analysis to the data, source of that data, and the way in which these facets are presented. By applying the rhetorical triangle method to resources encountered, researchers wil learn much about the validity and intent of the information encountered.