The internet is an amazing and altogether useful tool. I can get lost on Wikipedia for hours reading about things that I didn’t care about in the least until half a second before I visited the page. There once was a time, back in the days of public libraries, when the search for knowledge took considerable effort and discipline. Now, anyone with an internet connection can achieve at least a passing familiarity with almost any subject they so desire.
All of this easy-access information comes at a price, however. A brief visit to a search engine shows that the internet lacks quality control. Five pages dedicated to the exact same subject can have five contradictory things to say on the matter, and personal bias becomes the rule rather than the exception. Because of the sheer volume of misinformation on the internet, sifting through all of the noise to conduct productive research becomes difficult unless you know how to filter out the waste.
Take news, for example. Most people these days have foregone newspaper subscriptions in favor of internet news sites, and with that shift inevitably came an influx of fake news as well. The most insidious might be the sites that automatically generate bulletins about the death of any actor you like in a snowboarding accident, but rumors of breakups, infidelity, and scandal among celebrities show up as well. If you rely on the internet to get your news, make sure you’re visiting a reputable news outlet before you start freaking out that Adam Sandler died or Russia just declared war on the United States.
Bogus news aside, everyone has probably experienced the singular pleasure of completing a research project on a deadline when every resource you find seems to be a seventh grader’s class project or someone’s unconvincing attempt to prove that the thing you’re researching is actually false or some sort of government conspiracy to control your mind. It doesn’t take long for your eyes to glaze over in the sea of links and unhelpful information, at which point you might as well stop trying to finish your project until you regroup. As with the news, you fare much better when you know where to go for reputable sources.
Surprisingly, Wikipedia itself can be a powerful ally in the search for relevant information. While, as an open-source document, it isn’t acceptable as a source in its own right, Wikipedia’s articles on scientific topics include many references to sites that are. If you use Wikipedia’s reference list as an anchor in your quest for usable information, the biggest challenge left to you will be resisting the distractive influence of the site itself.