Consumers of knowledge or just gullible?

No one wants to be called gullible. However, in this information age, we are all vulnerable to information, not just too much information, but also of uncertainties around the credibility of this information. If a defining feature of research is ‘searching again’ then researching requires also ‘checking again’. Maybe information seems relevant, appropriate and trustworthy the first time, but what about during a second look?

I work with academics across all disciplines. The number one complaint I hear is about a lack of awareness, on the part of students, that they need to draw on an evidence base, citing, for example credible sources, rather than a search engine like Google.  However, I also find that skills of evaluation are rarely directly modelled or taught, and only indirectly assessed.

The third cognitive facet of the Research Skill Development (RSD) framework is that students evaluate information and data and reflect on the process to find or generate these. If evaluation or reflection is done in a manner that is gullible, accepting of all, then the processes students use produces no credible information. Therefore, in desiring students who can evaluate effectively, the affective side of this facet is:

Discerning: the drive to sniff out and find the best stuff


Where being discerning is both a driver and a product of researching.

Einstein said of himself

‘I think and think for months and years. Ninety-nine times, the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.’

A willingness to let go of that which is at hand or in mind is core to discernment.

Being discerning involves students not settling for others’ information or data that they themselves generate that compromise deeper understanding or real-world answers. This is where they begin to appreciate the indiscriminate use of information or data causes such real-world phenomena as patient deaths, buildings that fall down, poor understandings of society and other counterproductive elements.

Students engaging in research is a great way for them to learn to be discerning users of information. And being discerning users of information will enable them to be great researchers.