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Authority & Bias

Authority & Bias are important things to consider as you choose sources to include and respond to in your class assignments. 

Authority is a way of thinking and talking about what qualifies someone to write about a particular issue. In the digital age, everyone is a publisher. Writing down and sharing ideas has never been easier than it is today. In such a huge and growing sea of information, it can be hard to determine what sources are reliable and well-founded. One way we can try, though, is to look into the authority of a writer. Does the piece clearly indicate the person, persons, or organization that wrote it? Is it easy to find information about the author(s) and their background? Do they have credentials (academic degrees or experience) that establish them as an expert (or experts) on the topic? 

Bias is a way of thinking about the perspective or viewpoint of an author or publisher, and considering how that perspective might influence or shape what they write or publish. Bias also has to do with the type of information a source contains. Does it contain brief, "just the facts," reporting? Or does it include longer opinion and analysis pieces that interpret the underlying facts or argue a point? What kinds of evidence does the source point to in supporting its claims? Does this source tend to target an audience that has certain political views or special interests? Do they receive funding from organizations or causes that might skew what they report and how they report on it? 

Wrestling with authority and bias is an important part of doing research. Everyone has a perspective, which means everyone has biases. What's important is asking questions about how those biases affect what others (and we ourselves) read and write, and making sure we ask tough questions about the evidence used to support a claim.

Media Bias Chart

Note: This chart provides a useful visual interpretation of how bias and different types of coverage operate across many major news sources, but it is still a single perspective and shouldn't be taken as definitive or undisputed. "Left" and "Right" are fuzzy, complicated concepts with lots of conflicting definitions.

Think Tanks

"Think tanks" are organizations that conduct independent research on specific policy areas (e.g. housing, immigration, environmental protection, public health). They publish and circulate the results of their research in order to shape public debate around a given set of issues, as well as to influence lawmakers to adopt certain policies or legislative priorities. Although think tanks' primary purpose is to conduct research and they often have impressive, legitimate-sounding names, it is still important to evaluate them as possible sources. Important questions to ask include:

Is this think tank transparent about where their funding comes from?

Does this think tank have close ties to particular companies, industries, or other special interests that might influence their positions on certain issues? 

Are this think tank's reports widely cited by other reputable sources?

Do you notice any inflammatory or sensational language on their website or in their reports?