25 Choosing Your Experts First

In the last section, we selected a very trustworthy source of medical consensus (the NIH)  and read that alcohol consumption predicts cancer.

This is an important technique to have in your research mix. Too often, we execute web search after web search without first asking who would constitute as an expert. Unsurprisingly, when we do things in this order, we end up valuing the expertise of people who agree with us and devaluing the expertise of those who don’t. If you find yourself going down a rabbit hole of conflicting information in your searches, back up a second and ask yourself – whose expertise would you respect? Maybe it’s not the NIH. Maybe it’s the Mayo Clinic, or Medline, or the World Health Organization. But deciding who has expertise before you search, will mediate any tendencies toward confirmation bias.

Given the evidence we have seen in previous chapters about alcohol and cancer, will we give up our after-work glass of wine?  The evidence is still emerging, and maybe the risk is worth it. But the Washington Post article is not the newest version of “eating grapefruit will make you thinner.” It is not even “Nutrasweet may make you fat,” which is an interesting finding, but a point around which there is no consensus. Instead “small amounts of daily alcohol increase cancer risk” represents a real emerging consensus in the research, and from our review we find it’s not even a particularly new trend. The consensus emerged some time ago (the NIH FAQ dates back to 2010) but has been poorly communicated to the public.


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Web Literacy for College Students 2nd Ed Copyright © 2020 by NSCC and Michael A. Caulfield is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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