In terms of evaluating a source of information, the expertise or credibility of its author is extremely important. This is the case not only for your university assignments, but also your personal information needs; in general, we want to know that our sources are reliable and our information sound.
But this idea of authority can be complicated. Within the academic publishing world, determining someone’s expertise is somewhat straightforward in that advanced degrees, a publishing record, and an affiliation with an institution of higher learning or research are the conventional indicators of authority.
Outside of the scholarly community, there are other indicators of an author’s credibility; other communities may recognize authority or expertise by means of specific credentials or practical experience. For example, we generally rely on articles in the mainstream press because professional journalists are supposed to abide by a code of ethics and have a lengthy publishing record.
When it comes to verifying an author’s credibility within the scholarly literature, library research tools can help us to make a quick determination of authority. Recall that in the last module we looked at using the scholarly or peer reviewed limits in Summon and library databases to find results that are published in academic journals.
But looking a little more closely at the author and the journal, and perhaps doing some quick Google searching, can help us to make a better decision about the author’s expertise in a particular area. Having an advanced degree in theoretical physics does not necessarily make someone an expert in evolutionary biology.