Evaluating Information with the ACT UP Method
The ACT UP method, created by Dawn Stahura, is a way to look at information through a different lens - "as informed cultural producers of information (as opposed to being cultural consumers)." By looking at information through a cultural lens, we can begin to dismantle the oppressive systems in place in our society, including academia, and open the dialogue to more historically excluded groups such as women, BIPOC, and many others. "To ACT UP, means to actively engage in dismantling oppressions. To ACT UP means pushing against dominant narratives, oppressive hierarchies of knowledge production, and academic ivory tower definitions of expertise and scholarship." ("Evaluating Sources: ACT UP: Evaluating Sources," Salem State University, https://libguides.salemstate.edu/c.php?g=955102&p=6892068)
Each letter below spells out ACT UP. Use each letter and its associated questions to better evaluate your sources through this scholarly lens.
Who wrote the resource? What is their authority on the subject?
- Google the person or organization - what's their deal? Are they an authority on the subject? What are their credentials to write on this subject? What else have they written?
- Why was this information created? Was it created to educate, persuade, sell something, as parody? Information is an expensive commodity and so understanding the reason why the information is being shared can help you figure out if it's something you want to use in your research.
- For a website, look for the "About Us" section and read over their mission, purpose, who sits on their board, where they get their funding, etc.
- How can I know what's being shared is true? You can use the power of Google! Search the website name, domain name, or even the author(s) to see if they have been reported as a source of fake news. Google the website name, domain name, or the author to see if they have been reported for sharing fake news. There are other sites you can check as well, like Politifact, FactCheck.org, and Snopes, just to name a few.
- Pay close attention to the domain of a website (.com, .org, .edu, .gov). Sites that end in .edu or .gov are reserved for colleges/universities and government organizations respectively. Sites that end in .com or .org can be purchased by anyone. This is not to say that a .com is better or worse than a .org site - you will need to look into the authors, the about us section, and do some further digging to find out more about the information that is being shared AND who is sharing it.
When was the information created? How old is too old? Does the currency of the information matter? Has the material been updated or revised?
- How old is too old? Does the currency of the information matter? For example: consider the importance of currency when looking at information on cancer treatments vs. the history of the U.S. revolution.
- Does your assignment require you to find information from a certain date range, like the past 10 years?
- Has the material been updated or revised?
- Can you tell the last time a website was updated? (Hint: look for the time stamp on the bottom of the web page called "Last Updated")
Is this information factual and truthful?
- Is the information verifiable elsewhere? Misinformation and bad research are shared often, even on reputable websites!
- Rule of Three: can you find three additional sources that verifies the information?
- Is the information supported by evidence? Does the information being shared include citations? Look for the citations in the LSU Libraries databases. In news articles, blogs, etc, follow the hyperlinks to the studies that are being reported on.
- If you see spelling mistakes, typos, or grammar mistakes move on from this source - this means it hasn't even been edited! Example: if the source incorrectly uses their / they're / there it's not a good source.
- Pay attention to the language being used. If sensational or emotional phrases like "WHAT THEY DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW!" are being used, then there's a high chance this is click bait or false news.
Bias is inherent to all of us ... so what are we supposed to do?
- Look for resources that are impartial.
- Be aware of any conflicts of interest, such as funding sources.
- Example: an article written by Apple about the picture quality of the newest iPhone.
- Example: an article published by the NRA on gun control.
- Example: a study funded by Coca-Cola on the connection between sugar and depression.
- Earlier we talked about looking for the "About Us" section on a website or a mission statement... it's ok to have this publicly stated, it helps you put the research you've found into context.
- Pay particular attention to your own bias (we all have it!) This will affect how to approach a topic and your research.
- Break out of the confirmation bias habit!
Privilege exists, yes, even in publishing, academia, and libraries!
- Privilege in publishing means that most scholars/researchers that have the opportunity to publish their research in academic journals are white males (often peer-reviewed by other white males). But are they they only people that might publish or write on this topic? (Of course not!)
- Who is missing from the research conversation? Why?
- Who is missing from the research itself? For example: what is the population being studied in your scientific article? What are the ramifications of this? Can this be considered a true "general" study?
- Take the time to search for sources and authors who are not represented in the databases.
- Access to information is also a privilege. You have access to LSU Libraries resources because you are a student at LSU. These resources live behind what's called a paywall - it's why you have to login using your myLSU ID to get access to our resources. What does this mean for people trying to do research that aren't students or professors at an academic institution? What resources does the public library have? What about access to computers or even the internet?
The ACT UP evaluation method was created by Dawn Stahura at Salem State University.