When you search for information, you are going to find lots of it. But how can you tell if it is good information? At Meriam Library, Sarah Blakeslee developed a handy checklist of questions that she encourages students and others use to evaluate the nature and value of a resource. Best known as the CRAAP Test, it provides an easy-to-remember acronym for five criteria—currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose—that can help determine if information is credible. Here, we see how the test evaluates claims about COVID-19.
Currency—“Hydrochloroquine is effective for treating COVID-19.” Currency isn’t important for every topic, but it definitely is when it comes to keeping up with an evolving pandemic. Look at when the information came out and make sure there isn’t more recent information available. Remember, recommendations can—and do—change as more data becomes available. At the start of the pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave emergency authorization to use hydrochloroquine to treat COVID-19 but has since revoked its authorization due to safety issues.
Relevance—“Is Butte County slowing the rate of COVID-19 infections?” Does the information answer your question? If you are trying to find the current rate of spread for COVID-19 in Butte County, the total number of county cases is not useful. Instead you need to be looking for new case rates over the last few weeks. Making sure you have found the most relevant information for a search often means not settling for “close enough” and continuing to refine your searches until you hopefully find exactly what you need.
Authority—“Wash your vegetables with soap to prevent COVID-19.” What are the credentials or expertise behind the information source? In a global pandemic, the experts are those who research, analyze, and work in related fields such as virologists, epidemiologists, and physicians. The opinion of one expert, however, should not be accepted as fact without further research. Take the viral YouTube video from a Michigan doctor showing how to disinfect produce. Multiple health organizations quickly refuted this advice as unhealthy. For any information you find, try to find other sources that verify (or dispute) its validity. If a website is not from a source or an organization you are familiar with, read their “about” section and research them to gain clues to any biases that may impact credibility. Relying on information from peer-reviewed scholarly articles, agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or World Health Organization, or from recognized online heath resources such as the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins University can be your best avenue to authoritative information.
Accuracy—“Ninety-four percent of US deaths involving COVID-19 since February were also associated with other conditions, or comorbidities.” The information must not only be factual to be accurate, it must be interpreted correctly and taken in the proper context. This statement, based on data from a recent CDC report that only 6 percent of US pandemic deaths have been from COVID-19 alone, has gone viral, gaining traction with those who believe that the risk from COVID-19 has been grossly exaggerated. The problem with this example is the interpretation of the data and the conclusions drawn from it without reading or understanding the information in context. If you read the rest of the CDC report, it shows that the top comorbidities include conditions like pneumonia, and respiratory distress, which are often a result of the virus. More research reveals that there have been over 200,000 excess deaths since March (meaning death rates higher than would normally be seen in a year), with medical experts agreeing that the most rational explanation of this is that COVID-19 was the underlying cause of death.
Purpose—“Zinc can help lessen the symptoms of COVID-19.” What is the purpose of an information source? Does it appear to be impartial or objective, or are there political, religious, institutional or personal biases? Is somebody trying to sell you something? To determine purpose, think once again about the person or organization responsible for the information or website and use common sense. If you are looking for reliable information about the potential benefit of taking zinc for COVID-19, avoid getting your information from websites that are trying to sell you zinc supplements.
Sarah Blakeslee has worked in Meriam Library since 1973 as a student, library assistant, librarian, and interim dean. She is now in the Faculty Early Retirement Program. She coined the acronym CRAAP in 2004 for the UNIV 001 course she was teaching, and it is now widely used in schools across the country and as far away as Australia.