In an age when dubious “news” stories spread on social media like viruses, the importance of spotting bogus sources is more relevant than ever. But the American Library Association (ALA) has been using its own BS-detecting system for years, and its name is hard to forget.
The CRAAP test consists of five criteria: currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose [PDF]. Sarah Blakeslee of the University of California at Chico's Meriam Library developed the standard as a way for students and teachers to evaluate sources with a skeptical eye. The tool is especially helpful when conducting research on the internet, where unsubstantiated blog posts show up in a Google search beside peer-reviewed studies.
But there’s one portion of the test that’s recently required a second look. According to The Huffington Post, the ALA has updated its guidelines so that the “authority” checkmark now calls for greater scrutiny. “We talk differently about authority [now],” ALA president Julie Todaro told The Huffington Post. “And we talk about credentials in a different way. We talk about going beyond a title that someone has.”
That means not blindly trusting every story posted on social media by someone from a verified account. Look at the author of the article that’s been shared, and the authors of the sources that article cites, if any. And remember that just because an author is educated and prolific that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re trustworthy. “Authority is contextual,” a CRAAP guide put out by the Gumberg Library at Duquesne University states. “Having a Ph.D. in Astronomy would not give someone authority to write about the impact of music therapy on children who have autism. The expertise or experience needs to be relevant to the topic.”
After gauging the validity of your source, do the same for the other four markers. If the information has authority but lacks currency, relevance, accuracy, or purpose, it’s probably not worth citing in an academic essay (or tweeting out to your followers).
[h/t The Huffington Post]