Presentation Title

Who’s Evaluating the Evaluators? Cognitive Biases, Fake News, and Information Literacy

Type of Presentation

Individual paper/presentation (20 minute presentation)

Target Audience

Higher Education

Abstract

In response to the increased attention to “fake news” and “alternative facts” as information challenges in the wake of the recent election cycle, librarians and educators have dramatically stepped up efforts to cultivate basic information literacy skills, especially prioritizing the careful evaluation of online sources of information. While these critical source evaluation skills are an essential component of functional information literacy, the recent emphasis on them is predicated on a model of communication that assumes that the readers of these online sources are capable—and desirous—of making informed, objective judgments about the credibility of an external information source. Rhetorical theories, however, suggest a different model, one that understands communication as a set of complex negotiations among authors, texts, and audiences and that imagines readers engaged in ongoing identity construction within the context of discursive transactions. One of the most influential identity elements that readers bring to bear on a text are their cognitive biases. These biases often prove more important in the determination of textual reliability than any external features of the text itself, allowing readers to go through the motions of evaluating sources while simultaneously (and unconsciously) undermining the entire evaluation process. In this presentation, we will propose a series of activities designed to help students, researchers, and readers identify, understand, and minimize the effects of their own cognitive biases. We will also present the results of our use of these activities—in conjunction with more traditional source evaluation activities—in first-year writing and graduate library science classes.

Presentation Description

In a post-truth world, information literacy must evolve so that it acknowledges the presence of cognitive biases so powerful that they can torpedo the entire source evaluation process without our conscious permission. In this presentation, we will propose activities designed to put the readers, rather than the texts, under the evaluative microscope in order to help those readers minimize the effects of cognitive biases and will describe what happened when we implemented this in first-year writing and graduate library science classes.

Keywords

cognitive bias, media literacy, bibliographic instruction, evaluation of information, authenticity, credibility, fake news

Publication Type and Release Option

Presentation (Open Access)

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Who’s Evaluating the Evaluators? Cognitive Biases, Fake News, and Information Literacy

In response to the increased attention to “fake news” and “alternative facts” as information challenges in the wake of the recent election cycle, librarians and educators have dramatically stepped up efforts to cultivate basic information literacy skills, especially prioritizing the careful evaluation of online sources of information. While these critical source evaluation skills are an essential component of functional information literacy, the recent emphasis on them is predicated on a model of communication that assumes that the readers of these online sources are capable—and desirous—of making informed, objective judgments about the credibility of an external information source. Rhetorical theories, however, suggest a different model, one that understands communication as a set of complex negotiations among authors, texts, and audiences and that imagines readers engaged in ongoing identity construction within the context of discursive transactions. One of the most influential identity elements that readers bring to bear on a text are their cognitive biases. These biases often prove more important in the determination of textual reliability than any external features of the text itself, allowing readers to go through the motions of evaluating sources while simultaneously (and unconsciously) undermining the entire evaluation process. In this presentation, we will propose a series of activities designed to help students, researchers, and readers identify, understand, and minimize the effects of their own cognitive biases. We will also present the results of our use of these activities—in conjunction with more traditional source evaluation activities—in first-year writing and graduate library science classes.