Humboldt State University students conduct research for their Native American Studies class on Feb. 15, 2018. Conducting good research requires looking at a variety of sources and assessing that information for whether it is current, relevant, coming from an authority on the topic, is accurate and for what purpose that information was generated. (Contributed by Humboldt State University)
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If you want to find out if your information is good, you need to make sure it passes the CRAAP test.

With the proliferation of social media, researchers say it’s more important than ever to figure out whether the information you have is credible or not. Humboldt State University librarian Carly Marino works on research related to local history, but helps students with a variety of research across disciplines.

“Because we have so much information, how do you decide whether or not what you’re looking at is accurate, credible and a good source to go to,” Marino said, “especially when you’re looking at science.”

Marino tells students that information needs to pass the CRAAP test, meaning students should determine whether the information is current, whether it is relevant to the topic they’re researching, whether the information is coming from an authority on the topic, whether the content is accurate and what the purpose of the information’s creation was.

Google might be a good place to do research if you’re trying to look up information like the date of a particular event, Marino said. But if you’re looking for scientific information, other sites like Google Scholar and PubMed would be options that carry more authority, she said.

Local libraries also provide access to research databases, such as JSTOR, Marino said.

It’s good to look at the website and see if it ends in .gov, which means it’s a government site and is likely more credible, or .com, which indicates it is a commercial website, Marino said.

“We’ve got this continuum of credibility,” said environmental consultant and HSU lecturer Michael Furniss.

Generally the most credible information comes from peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals, which means other researchers reviewed the information and found it credible, and information posted by research organizations such as the U.S. Forest Service, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which Furniss said “have the highest credibility.”

“It doesn’t mean that they’re right,” he said. “But you can trust them more than you can trust Joe Blow on Facebook, which is the other end of the spectrum.”

For people concerned about where the funding for the research came from, Marino said people can search the article again in a search engine with the word funding, but it’s generally disclosed at the end of an article.

If you found an article in a research journal, Marino said, you can also look at who is on their review board and look into their backgrounds.

“Any place you’re getting information, you should ask are they a nonprofit? Are they a company? Do they exist to sell ad space or have a different goal in mind,” Marino said.

Research can come in a variety of forms and the methods for conducting that research vary depending on what field is being studied. Research can be quantitative, focused on surveys and numbers, or qualitative, which is based on more on interviews and case notes, said HSU social work professor Jennifer Maguire, who has done a lot of research on hunger and homelessness among college students.

There are four levels of research that range in how rigorous they are: descriptive, non-experimental, semi-experimental and experimental, she said.

“All of those have different research designs that would lead to different types of conclusions,” Maguire said.

The least rigorous type of research would be descriptive, where Maguire said “you have a notion there’s an issue about something.”

She started off with the question of whether students were experiencing homelessness and hunger anecdotally or if it was across the university system in California.

The descriptive research involved interviewing faculty, staff, students and administrators to get a description of the issue. After that, Maguire said they did some non-experimental, but still also descriptive, research in the form of developing and asking survey questions and finding ways to measure homelessness.

Semi-experimental designs come into play after the problem has been identified and interventions are in place to determine if the interventions are working, Maguire said. This would be something like seeing if students who have food stamps and emergency food have higher GPAs, are more likely to stay in school and enroll in classes the following semester, she said.

The most rigorous type of research is experimental, where you can do a randomized control trial in which all students have an equal chance of being selected and you can compare the presence or absence of an intervention on people who might be similar group in terms of age, gender or other qualities.

Furniss said the more speculative, novel research is often what gets the most credit and notoriety, but that research isn’t as useful as academic papers that synthesize a lot of that primary research.

Meta-analyses have gotten more popular because they look at every study on a particular topic, such as all studies that looked at the effectiveness of statins in preventing heart attacks, and then summarize what we do know, what we don’t know, where there is consensus and where there isn’t.

“Often it’s not very satisfying because the world is complicated, especially when you’re dealing with biological forms,” Furniss said. “How people respond to certain chemicals, how species might respond to a wind farm — those types of things, there’s tons of uncertainty involved in it.”

That’s why it’s also important to get your information from a variety of sources because “it’s pretty hard to be completely unbiased in what you’re writing,” Marino said.

Having a variety of perspectives can ensure you have good information, which is “the foundation of a good democracy,” Marino said.

“In order to make the right decisions,” Marino said, “it’s important to always be looking at new information you receive with a critical viewpoint.”

Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0506.

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