If you do a web search on any bird topic, you’ll probably get some results, but how do you know if it’s good infomation? This is especially difficult if you find conflicting information from multiple sources.
Is this a trusted source?
Sometimes the publication or author is enough to give credibility to an article. I can’t tell you which sources to trust, but I can tell a few that I trust to give you an idea.
- Wikipedia (be sure claims have citations)
- Scientific journals (ScienceDirect, Elsevier, Wiley, and others)
- Cornell School of Ornithology
- Bird Talk magazine (after the rebirth)
- Hagen Avicultural Research Institute (although they do sell products)
- Zoo research
- University researchers
- Widely recognized experts in the field, such as Barbara Heidenreich
- International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators
If it’s from a source you don’t know or don’t trust, here are some questions you may ask.
Does the author cite sources?
It’s unfortunately uncommon for articles about birds to cite the source of their information. It seems to come out of thin air sometimes. Even if someone says their information just comes from their own observations is an improvement. Often articles are written simply by taking content from multiple other articles. An article has a lot more credibility if you know where the author got his information.
Citing sources is especially important in the case of making a very specific claim, like the ideal temperature range for a captive bird.
Do they provide their name and contact information?
I feel strongly that if you’re going to be making recommendations that could affect the health of other people’s birds, you should have the guts to put your name and contact info. Sometimes I read something really interesting but it’s uncited, so I want to ask the author where the information came from.
Do they try to scare you or exaggerate?
Unfortunately, sites that make money from advertising fall into the trap of wanting to attract visitors and focus less on the quality of their content. One big red flag is someone that tries to scare you or exaggerate the effects of something. That hooks you in and makes you want to keep reading. The idea is that after scaring you, they’ll offer you a way out. It’s a great way to hook readers in and keep them coming back.
Sometimes you’ll see scare tactics that don’t even explain why! Don’t do xyz, it’s dangerous for your bird! Why?
Did they clearly put a lot of effort into the article?
This is entirely subjective, but if you can tell that someone put a lot of effort into the content and presentation of the article, it is probably more likely to be true. If they are just after hits and advertising, that extra effort doesn’t really have much of a payoff versus just spitting out a lot of words on a page.
Do they reference “recent studies”?
This is a common tactic used to authors to give the air of legitimacy. They will say “Recent studies say that eating plastic is good for you” — sounds better than “Eating plastic is good for you” — if the author is truly aware of recent studies, they should cite the recent study. Either they are lying or just plain lazy.
Look for plagiarism
If there’s a particularly interesting claim in an article, try doing a web search and enclose a snippet of text in quotes. If you get exact matches, the text may be plagiarised. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s not true, but it means the author is dishonest an is not giving credit for the work of others. Can they be trusted with the advice they’ve given?
Do they write back to you?
If you write an author of an article they put a lot of work into and are proud of, they will be so excited you wrote them. You’ll probably get a reply email. However, if it’s a site looking for hits (see previous question), it’s more likely you won’t get a response. Obviously this doesn’t mean that no response means the article is not to be trusted, but use it as one data point to evaluate the article. Of course, if they don’t provide their contact info, you can’t evaluate this one.
These are your beloved companions we’re talking about. Be careful out there.
Special mention: Forums
It’s worth stating emphatically to not trust anything you read on forums without verifying with a credible source. Sometimes a person on a forum will be a trusted source, affiliated with a zoo or academic institution, for example.
There are some key things about forums that make them untrustworthy:
- They are relatively anonymous, so there is little risk in just saying whatever you like without having to suffer any consequences
- The forum belongs to someone else so you aren’t harming your own reputation if you post inaccurate information. If you have your own blog, that is tied to you and adds some credibility and accountability. However, you should still verify things with trusted sources.
- It’s very easy to find a forum and very quick and easy to post something. They call that low friction. To post something on a more credible site requires the site owner to approve your posting first. Or if you want your own site, it requires a lot of effort to set it up and maintain it.
If you look at forum posts, people will just say things. They’ll rarely say where they heard it, rarely post a URL to more information, and it will usually just ignite a pointless debate between multiple factions, none of which have any actual infomation.
I know that sometimes a forum is the only source for some information you are looking for, in which case I wrote an article called What if you can’t find a credible source?
Unfortunately, the conclusion of this is that it’s very hard to find credible sources. The important thing is to learn some tricks and also to remain skeptical of anything you read until it’s confirmed by a source you trust.