There's a lot of bad information out there online. This guide can help you avoid the crap and become a savvier citizen of our digital age.
Editor's note: The following essay has been adapted from Howard Rheingold's new book Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, which offers Rheingold's insights on how to find quality information on the web, and then how to piece that information together "intelligently, humanely, and above all mindfully." The book was published in April by MIT Press.
Use the following methods and tools to protect yourself from toxic bad info. Use them and then pass them along to others. Promote the notion that more info literacy is a practical answer to the growing info pollution. Be the change you want to see.
Although the Web undermines authority (by enabling anybody to publish), authority is still useful as one clue to credibility in a detective hunt that accounts for many other clues. Claims to authority, however, need to be questioned. I might add credibility to my assessment if a source is a verified professor at a known institution of higher learning, an authentic MD or PhD, but I would not subtract it from people without credentials whose expertise seems authentic. If you are going to grant credibility to people whose expertise is based on being a professor of something, make sure that assertion is accurate. Don't stop at simply verifying that the claim to be a professor is valid if you are looking for scientific credibility. The next step is to use the Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index that derives a score from the scholar's publications, citations by other scholars, grants, honors, and awards. If you want to get even more serious, download a free copy of Publish or Perish software, which analyzes scientific citations from Google Scholar according to multiple criteria. Or use the h-index to calculate how many times other scientists have cited a particular source. Again, don't trust just one source; triangulate.