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November 10, 2007


I believe that most people are confused about authority. Authority implies that a writer has verifiable credentials - by virtue of education or experience - to not only write about a topic but to also be considered a trusted source of information. I teach kids how to evaluate information and let me tell you, they do not know how to evaluate authority and part of the reason why they have a problem with this concept is because of the connotation of the word authority. People get rather touchy when you question the authority of the information that they use because they see this question as an attack on their intellect.

Questioning authority is neither elitist snobbery nor academic arrogance; rather it is actually the highest level of information literacy processing. How does one know that an anonymously written article on a website with little or no editorial policy is trustworthy? (Some "expert" wrote the following article: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=North_Hills_Senior_High_School&oldid=141012793 ) Why should I trust it? The reason, “because other people do”, is neither acceptable nor logical. Information should always be questioned and verified.

Do I question the wisdom of the masses, yes? Look at the wisdom of the masses during the French Revolution or the wisdom of the masses of Germans during WWII. Sometimes, the crowd just isn't right. What if leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King had accepted the wisdom of the masses and not studied credible scholars like Thoreau or the writing of a credentialed lawyer and respected leader, Gandhi. Where would civil rights be?

Now I know that someone out there is going to take what I have said and turn it inside out and all around. That is the great element of the Internet - everyone can voice their opinion, even the village idiot! However, do not confuse opinion with fact or authority with snobbery. Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate.

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