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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.

Somewhere in the Middle: Navigating the Credible Spaces Between Peer-Review and Popular Media

Academic and Popular are two commonly used categories for the articles and books commonly encountered in the research process. These represent two extremes to some. On one end, you have the academic sources for your scientifically written, peer-reviewed journals, and on the other are articles written more for the everyday person, with a wide range of credibility in this category since peer-review isn't required. While these categories are useful and true for the most part, there is some wiggle room to be found among the array of publications and publishing outlets available to so many. 

I suggest that a researcher should consider a third category, broadly speaking, for Grey literature, which I like to think of as "Academic Adjacent" materials. While not necessarily peer-reviewed, there are publications that, from a practical standpoint, act as a given field's professional publications, or represent materials produced by credentialed authors who have all but undergone the peer-review process, publishing material meant to inspire or guide academic and civic policy moving forward in a field. Trade Journals might not be peer-reviewed in some cases, but represent a category of professional publications written by professionals for professionals, such as Advertising Age. Those have some status beyond a tabloid publication, but are not quite a refereed, academic journal. 

Think Tanks can be consulted to explore content that influences public policy, and it is actually very important to recognize that many of these Think Tanks are very partisan, although not always so. Many of the content creators found within these organizations have advanced degrees in public administration, economics, or policy. Explore disparate Think Tanks, such as Brookings Institiute and the Heritage Foundation. Try the same search on COVID-19 in each. How do each of these address the pandemic? How does the terminology differ when referring to the pandemic, if at all?

There are data tools and multimedia creations that present facts from quality sources in unique ways other than text, providing a credible way that still contributes to the research process, albeit outside the realm of peer-review. If trying to choose between different tools, it might be best to lean toward tools from organizations that are partnering with universities or other professional organizations that provide some transparency in how their data is being sourced. When in doubt, contact a librarian!

Data Visualizations and Digital Humanities Initiatives

  • Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations (IHME)
    • The IHME is an independent population health research center at UW Medicine, part of the University of Washington, that provides rigorous and comparable measurement of the world's most important health problems and evaluates the strategies used to address them. IHME makes this information freely available so that policymakers have the evidence they need to make informed decisions about how to allocate resources to best improve population health.
      • Data on resources used or projected needs such as beds and ventilators, Data on mortality rates due to COVID-19 
  • COVID-19 Dashboard by the Centers for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University
    • The Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) is a research collective housed within the Department of Civil and Systems Engineering (CaSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU). Their goal to better understand and improve societal, health, and technological systems for everyone.
      • Real time data feed from several sources, International in scope
  • Alabama's COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard
    • Provided by the ADPH, this visualization focuses on Alabama's confirmed cases, deaths, and testing data. 
      • Useful for getting county level data
  • Worldometer's COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic Tracker
    • This initiative is run by a small, independent company in the United States. According to their website, most fo their data is sourced from official government channels of communication, with some coming from local media sources vetted by the company for inclusion.
      • Data updated regularly, Data delineated into categories (active vs. closed cases, recoveries)


Think Tanks for COVID-19 Research

  • Harvard's Think Tank Custom Search Tool
    • Maintained by Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, this link represents a Google custom search in which multiple Think Tanks of notably different funding sources and political support can be searched on a given issue. 
      • Good starting point to get a high level view of the scope of coverage across many disparate websites
  • On Think Tanks
    • Look up Think Tanks by name in order to get an idea of their organization's intended audience and topics covered.
      • Good for getting data such as demographics and mission statements to aid in evaluating Think Tanks
  • Pew Research Center
    • Non-partisan Think Tank that uses data-driven, evidence-based analytics to inform the public on matters relating to issues and major trends around the world. Their information comes from methods such as public opinion polling and demographics analysis.
      • Good source for how COID-19 is effecting specific communities