Here are ten tips to help you validate the results you get back from searches, from Gregory McNamee at the Brittanica Blog:

1. Trust not the first answer the search engine turns up. In the spirit of the tyranny of the majority, it will usually be wrong or, if not outright wrong, not the answer you really need.
2. Interrogate your sources as Detective Sergeant Joe Friday would interrogate a hippie. What qualifies one source to claim superiority over another? How do you know that what you’re reading or hearing is correct? And interrogate the facts themselves, relentlessly.
3. Facts are stupid things, as Ronald Reagan said, until we give them meaning.
4. As a corollary, beware the anonymous. Al Neuharth, the publisher of //USA Today//, once remarked, “Most anonymous sources tell more than they know. Reporters who are allowed to use such sources sometimes write more than they hear. Editors too often let them get away with it. Result: Fiction gets mixed with fact.”
Who is the author of that page you’ve just Googled up? If you don’t know, if you don’t have an idea of his or her credentials, find another source.
5. Rigorously practice the principle of symmetrical skepticism. Assume goodwill, but also assume that everything people tell you is wrong until you have looked it up for yourself, no matter how much you may agree with your source of information politically, religiously, culturally, or otherwise. Stand with Inspector Clouseau, who averred, “I suspect everyone.” As the old journalistic saw has it, and as I wrote in my previous posting in this forum, If your mother says she loves you, get it verified from two independent sources.
7. If you’re excited by a piece of news or a press release or somesuch novelty, wait a few days before you commit yourself to it. Mistakes are made. Corrections are issued.
8. Have a little fun while you’re doing all this poking around and investigating and challenging. I love being surprised by strange oddments such as this: Hitler’s army in Russia had more horses than Napoleon’s did 130 years earlier.
9. Be not dogmatic. As the Firesign Theatre rightfully instructed, Everything you know is wrong. Facts are stupid things, but they can entrap the most careful of us. And we are never so certain of ourselves as when we’re incorrect.
10. The Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that we all tape this little note to our telephones: “Are you sure?” The message is meant to serve as a reminder to help stem wrongheaded talk, idle gossip, and pointless argument.

In addition, here are some sites, compiled by the researchers at Brittannica, that are excellent places to begin researching on the internet. All are trusted, peer-reviewed sites.

  • Smithsonian Institution. The site has three large sections: Art & Design, History & Culture, Science & Technology.
  • The Nobel Foundation. It’s easy to browse and has information on the prize awarders, the recipients, and an interesting “Explore and Learn” section.
  • The Busch Entertainment Corporation Family of Parks. A good source for exploring the animal kingdom, with pictures, scientific classifications, fun facts, and bibliographies on many animal species.
  • PBS Online. With up-to-date features, four large sections on general topics (Arts & Drama, History, Home & Hobbies, Life & Culture, Science & Nature), and a section dedicated to News and Views.
  • Also, the Web has good sites for major sports associations and halls of fame with information on their specific sports. Examples include tennis, football, and baseball.
  • Universities are often an excellent source for reliable information. The University of Virginia, for example, maintains a large section on American Studies. Topics include the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, odd for a Virginia school, perhaps, given that the fair took place in Chicago.
  • Renascence Editions of the University of Oregon has an extensive database of original texts of English literature.
  • The National Park Service offers a panorama of the American historical landscape, national parks, historic monuments, and landmarks.
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration is an excellent source on space exploration and has a special section for younger students.
  • The Academy of Achievement has a good collection of contemporary biographies with sound and video clips, interviews, and photo galleries.
  • The Web Gallery of Art. This Hungarian site (in English) has an extensive, searchable database of high-resolution images of European paintings and sculptures from the 12th to the mid-19th century.

McNamee, Gregory. "10 Ways to Test Facts." Brittannica Blog Brittannica Blog. 26 06 07: Encyclopedia Brittannica. September 13, 2007 <>.

Ross, Michael. "Untangling the Web: A Student Guide to the Internet." Brittannica Blog Brittannica Blog. 27 08 2007. September 13, 2007 <>.