A skilled writer may defy any of these ethical considerations without his audience being able to spot it. Below are listed additional caveats that may not necessarily mean that a source is inaccurate, irrelevant, or otherwise unusable, but which should definitely be considered in your overall evaluation of whether or not to use a source. Look out for information frames and information malpractice.
Framing is an important concept to understand inasmuch as it shapes how information is shared and interpreted. Here are some examples:
- An editorial in the Tribune that laments how lazy and unmotivated millennials are instead of focusing on the moribund job market.
- Someone who denies global warming by complaining about government overreach instead of discussing the science, itself.
- A politician who wants to cut funding for scientific research and justifies it by only presenting examples of unpopular or frivolous-sounding studies.
- Someone who editorializes about sexual assault by focusing on the culture of drinking on college campuses instead of the actual crime.
These are ways of packaging information that attempt to delegitimize or minimize one aspect of the discussion while focusing almost entirely on another. Be wary of information sources that focus entirely on one aspect of a subject without showing how it relates to other aspects. Some typical frames are:
Pro-Social Issue Anti-Social Issue
Pro-Environmental Concern Anti-Environmental Concern
The information presented within these frameworks might be completely factual, but the presentation of the facts is seen only through the window that fits within the author’s frame. Thus, it may exclude important information from the discussion.
Other things to be watchful for are the various kinds of information malpractice. Malpractice is defined as improper, illegal, or negligent activity. In the realm of research, here are some examples of information malpractice:
Conflict of interest: The authors or source have a conflict of interest in presenting the arguments they present.
Plagiarism: The authors have stolen the language or ideas of other sources without giving them credit.
Cherry-picking Science: The authors have tried to make a point by using only pieces of science that support their argument while ignoring other evidence that contradicts them.
Presenting History without its Context: The authors use quotes or historical events to make a point about the modern world without fully acknowledging the socio-political context in which those events happened.
False Equivalence: The author presents an equivalence between two competing sides of an argument, when in fact there is only superficial similarity.
Treating All Opinions as Equal: The author gives expert sources and non-expert sources equal weight.