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)." The ACT UP method is a way to critically evaluate information and places YOU, as a scholar, in the mix of the scholarly conversation. The ACT UP method asks questions that move us beyond just being passive consumers of information and asks that we consider different approaches to research and open the dialogue to be more inclusive of historically excluded groups. This means including voices from Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, LGBTQIA+ communities, and women, among others. It also places emphasis on being aware of the information you are consuming, producing, and sharing.
Each letter below spells out ACT UP. You can use these prompts to critically evaluate information sources.
Who wrote the resource? What is their authority on the subject?
- Google the author(s), which can be a 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. You'll also want to use lateral reading when evaluating websites.
- 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.
- If you are unable to find who wrote the resource, consider how this might impact your research.
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"). If you can't find this information, consider how this might impact your research.
- Remember that there is a difference between when something was published and when it was uploaded to a website and/or database. The same is true for when something was originally created and when it was actually shared.
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?
- 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. There are other sites you can check as well, like Politifact, FactCheck.org, and Snopes, just to name a few.
- Is the information supported by evidence? Does the information being shared include citations? Look for the citations in the LSU Libraries databases and see what you can find out about them. In news articles, blogs, etc, follow the hyperlinks to the studies that are being reported on.
- 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!
P: Privilege, Positionality, and Perspective
Who is missing from the conversation? Who has access to information?
- "Who can and is researching and publishing on a given topic in a given discipline? Positionality can be defined as the social and political context that creates an individual's or group's identity in terms of race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability status." Evaluating Sources, Martha Attridge Bufton
- Who is missing from the research conversation? Why might that be? What does this missing perspective mean for the research?
- Who is missing from the research itself? Look at the methods or methodology section of the research article --- what is the population being studied? What sample is used in the study to represent this population? Who participated in the study and who didn’t? What are the ramifications of this? Can this be considered a true "general" study that can be applied to various groups of people?
- Example: if a study only researched men and the efficacy of a certain drug, can we use the findings to say that this drug would be beneficial to everyone?
- Take the time to search for sources and authors who are not represented in the databases. When looking for sources, this could mean finding oral histories, books, zines, etc. For authors, you can search the links in the box to left titled "Other Possible Sources."
- 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.