Today's editors' blog post comes via Rebecca Gavin, who shared some important feedback with the editors earlier this week regarding sources, specifically what makes for a credible source when writing and debating on PolicyMic.
Rebecca has found herself frustrated with some of the debates on the site, because she believes some users are not backing up their claims with credible sources. Here's what she had to say:
"I see a need for a clear definition of what defines a credible source. I have just participated in a very lengthy debate (in this instance, with conservatives), and I found that many pundits offer, as proof of a claim, blog entries from biased websites. Often, the blog entry that they offer as evidence doesn't even directly address their specific point. It's like they have read this blog, and found that it articulates their worldview particularly well, and they think that if other people would just read it, they would be convinced also. The problem is, you can't prove opinion with opinion. These pundits don't seem to know that, and they don't seem to know that to claim authority, the source must be objective and factual."
Rebecca continues, "I have gone around and around with a particular pundit, and some of his defenders ... because they think that I just reject their 'evidence' because I don't agree with it. I reject it because it is biased, and because having taken some of the assertions from their sources and done rudimentary research, I have found them to be very distorted reflections of fact. So, yes, I reject them as not credible."
Rebecca raises some important issues here that are valuable for the entire PolicyMic community to think through.
First off, when making claims in articles and comments that need outside evidence, all users should strive to cite only credible news sources. (Note: You should link to outside sources when making fact-based arguments that cite numbers, statistics, or provide quotes from speakers.) Admittedly, there's a fair amount of subjectivity here. But, Gallup polls, NY Times or Associated Press news articles, statistics published in think tank reports, studies conducted by peer-reviewed institutions, government agency reports, and original documents are all examples of great sources. On the other side, partisan-leaning opinion blogs and posts in the comment sections of other sites are sources which do more to mislead than support your claims.
When possible, go directly to the source. Thanks to the internet, it's becoming easier and easier to find full transcripts of speeches, YouTube videos of rallies and events, etc. If a source is readily available, it's much more powerful evidence than a news report on this source (i.e. a Fox News or Daily Kos article summarizing the speech).
Secondly, you should strive to be as data-driven as possible in your arguments. The most powerful way to prove your point of view is to support it with hard numbers, data, and concrete statstics. It's a lot harder to argue with an academic study with a large sample size, than one pundit's opinion on that same topic.
Finally, a note about how PolicyMic is designed. The editors do as much as we can to fact-check, ensure pundits are using credible links as sources, and encourage writers to fill their articles with data. But given the sheer number of articles we produce every day, we also rely heavily upon our amazing community for help in this regard. Much like Wikipedia, we get collectively smarter when all of you call out fellow PolicyMic'ers and keep your peers honest. If ever you feel that another user is using only partisan sources to support his/her claims, then raise this issue in the comments. This kind of healthy vigilance will help to promote better discussion and ensure that the quality of conversation remains top-notch on the site.
If you've got some comment moderation ideas or further thoughts, please share them in the comments below!
Special thanks to pundits Susan Kraykowski, Gary Sanford, Ed Hancox, and Jeanne Vickery for continually pushing us forward in moderating comments and sharpening our thinking about improving the debate experience on PolicyMic. We're grateful for your valuable feedback.