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Bias, Fake News, Hoaxes, & Lies

Strategies and guidelines for detecting bias, lies, fake news, misinformation, propaganda. Don't be fooled!

Evaluation Checklist Forms

There are many different checklists to help you evaluate sources of information. Below are a few of the most popular. Using the same checklist to consistently evaluate all of your sources can save time and effort, and help you to compare sources. (However, there is a downside - by using the same checklist all the time, you could still miss something important that's not on that particular list.)

Be aware that some sources, like Wikipedia, may pass these initial tests but still may not be acceptable for college level academic research assignments. Check with your professor or librarian for advice and guidance. Be skeptical and be critical. You may still have concerns. If so, follow those concerns. Look for other clues, ask more pointed questions, and keep checking.

Other Clues

‚ÄčOther Clues, additional points to consider, and questions to ask:

  • Is the text well written, with good spelling and grammar? Easy to follow and understand? Well organized and intelligent?
  • Is the site full of click-bait ads?
  • What are the other articles or headlines in that source like? Is there a mix of quality? 
  • Is the language emotionally intense? Does it scream outrage, fear, anxiety?  Look for signs of excess. Do you get angry reading it?
  • Are key personalities overly praised or overly criticized?
  • Is there pressure to think, act, decide quickly? 
  • Look at the adjectives used to describe the event or action. Are they positive, negative, or neutral?
  • Are there a lot of descriptive adjectives used? or is the language more direct?
  • Does the title or the headline accurately reflect the content of the article?
  • Does the article set up an either/or choice, one bad, one good? Does it simplify everything to a yes/no dichotomy?
  • Do the claims seem plausible? possible? workable? reasonable? or excessive, extreme, unbelievable?
  • Are the claims supported with evidence, and are citations or links provided to that evidence? 
  • Follow the links, do they really support the article or are they contradictory
  • Look at the URL. Do a search for the news agency that the site seems to be- many fake news site will use versions of real news company names but with a slight variation.

Sometimes you will find articles with similar viewpoints across different sources or sites. This is normal; people who agree tend to collect the same or similar defenses of their viewpoints. However, be aware that repetition of a lie as a way to get people to believe the lie is a standard technique of propaganda. Also, if you see the exact same language, word for word, showing up in different sources, that should be a big warning flag that this information is being artificially pushed or disseminated for some nefarious motive, or, it may be a robot sending that post or tweet or article, or it might be a fake website set up to collect ad clicks. All trash.

Levels of Confidence - the Hierarchy of Scientific Evidence

In any scientific field, it's important to provide evidence to support your statements.  But not all evidence is equally reliable. Generally scientific research will involve carefully designed studies, with randomized controlled trials being one of the strongest types of research - while case reports and animal trials are considered much less strong (although they are still scientific).  Click on the link below to find out more.


Diagram of a pyramid showing different levels of evidence in order of reliability, from the weakest at the bottom to the strongest at the top. A circle to the right contains a list of items that is labeled "not scientific evidence". A full description of the hierarchy is available on the linked page.