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Seriously, Why Do You Think That’s True?

Someone writes a popular article and suddenly everyone is talking about the benefits of open office landscapes, a particular way to study math, or the “fact” that girls (or boys) are smarter than boys (or girls). How do we avoid the leadership, learning, or performance-focused flavor of the month?

07-25 Stars or Spots
Stars in the Daytime? Let’s Check.

Or, put another way… What will I (you, we) accept as evidence that a particular thing is true?

Here are a few things to consider…

  1. Even things that seem obvious may not be true. For example, many people think that they are more creative if they wait until the last minute to complete a project. Turns out: not so.
  2. What we think is true today may change tomorrow. New facts and principles are being discovered constantly. Obvious example: the earth used to be flat.
  3. We can read about a theory we have to see if it is supported by the literature.
    • Look in refereed journals. The tougher it is to be published, the more rigor is likely applied to accepting studies or reviews. For people working in training, the Review of Educational Research is one good place to look.
    • Don’t rely entirely on articles published in journals, magazines, or websites that make it really easy for people to publish. If you’re looking in ERIC, for example, be aware that they’ll publish just about anything. (That doesn’t mean there is nothing of value there, it just means there was no screening process.)
  4. Look for the leaders in a particular area. Check out the abstracts in various search engines: Google Scholar or PsychINFO, for example. Which names do you see over and over? Pick the top two or three and read what they’ve written. Check their references for more leaders in that area.
  5. Look for divergent views.
    • Ask people who are knowledgeable to talk against the idea. Take on the role of investigative reporter. What’s the negative view? Call a critic. Search for the balance.
    • Sometimes journals will devote an entire issue to a particular topic. They will invite the leaders in that area to write articles. Sometimes there is a lot of disagreement. These are great sources of information from different points of view. Again, you can use their references for more sources.
  6. Don’t neglect to ask people in your network of associates and friends who they recommend for the best insights into your area of interest.

When can you stop, or at least pause in your search? Once you begin to find redundant information from a variety of viewpoints, then you have probably made a reasonable effort. (At least for a time.)

Disclosure: Some links on this site are “affiliate links,” which means that I may receive a small commission if you click on the link and purchase something.