Criteria of Credibility Workbook

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Criteria of Credibility


Criteria of Credibility

The criteria of credibility can be used to assess the credibility of documents or individual sources. It has become standard to use the mnemonic RAVEN to remember the top five criteria of credibility:

R = Reputation

A = Ability to See

V = Vested Interest

E = Expertise

N = Neutrality/Bias

Throughout this course you will need to assess of credibility of various documents and individuals. You should use the key criteria given on the following pages to make your assessments in every piece of work that you submit so that you are able to use them effectively by the end of the course.

1. Reputation

The first criterion, reputation, is about whether the source’s history or status suggests reliability or unreliability. If we know that someone has told lies in the past, then we should be less trusting of them in future. If, on the other hand, they have been put in a position of authority and responsibility, then this suggests that they have earned it, and so this counts in their favour, to some degree at least.

Sometimes we have a good idea whether or not a witness is going to be reliable, even before we look at the details of their testimony or the situation, simply based on their reputation. Other things being equal, a good reputation makes someone a more credible witness, while a bad reputation makes a witness less credible.

Reputation can be broken down into two parts: status and track-record.


First, consider the impact of status on a witness’s credibility. If someone is in a position of responsibility, then this reflects well on them. Professionals such as teachers, lawyers, or doctors are considered to derive credibility from their professional status. If they weren’t trustworthy, then it is less likely that they would have been able to make it in their profession.

Status can also be boosted by recognition. If someone wins an award for the quality of their work, or has a title bestowed upon them, then this is a positive sign.

Conversely, someone with a bad reputation is less credible. Rightly or wrongly, used-car salesmen, estate agents, and politicians are generally regarded as slippery customers, as people not to be trusted.


Second, someone’s track-record can also affect the level of trust that we are willing to put in them. If we know that someone has told lies in the past, then we will be less trusting of them in future. If, on the other hand, we have long experience suggesting that a person is reliable, then we will be more inclined to believe them.
Reputation – Case Study
UK Members of Parliament and their Reputation.
The majority of the public believe in the credibility of their elected representative in government – that is why they were voted for in the first place. However, should we always trust those we elect? Is their reputation infallible?
The United Kingdom parliamentary expenses scandal was a major political scandal triggered by the leak and subsequent publication by the Telegraph Group in 2009 of expense claims made by members of the United Kingdom Parliament over several years. Public outrage was caused by disclosure of widespread actual and alleged misuse of the permitted allowances and expenses claimed by Members of Parliament (MPs), following failed attempts by parliament to prevent disclosure under Freedom of Information legislation. The scandal aroused widespread anger among the UK public against MPs and a loss of confidence in politics. It resulted in a large number of resignations, sackings, de-selections and retirement announcements, together with public apologies and the repayment of expenses. Several members or former members of the House of Commons, and members of the House of Lords, were prosecuted and sentenced to terms of imprisonment. The scandal also created pressure for political reform extending well beyond the issue of expenses and led to the Parliament elected in 2005 being referred to as the 'Rotten Parliament'.

In the United Kingdom MPs can claim expenses, including the cost of accommodation, "wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred for the performance of a Member’s parliamentary duties". A February 2008 Freedom of Information Act request for the release of details of MPs' expenses claims was allowed by an Information Tribunal. The House of Commons Authorities challenged the decision on the grounds that it was "unlawfully intrusive". In May 2008, the High Court (England and Wales) ruled in favour of releasing the details of MPs' expenses claims. In April 2009 the House of Commons authorities announced that publication of expenses, with certain information deemed "sensitive" removed, would be made in July 2009.

However before this could take place, a full uncensored copy of the expenses records and documentation was leaked to the Daily Telegraph, which began publishing details in daily instalments from 8 May 2009. These disclosures dominated the British media for weeks, with the findings being considered to show flagrant and sometimes gross misuse of the expenses system for personal gain by many MPs (including Government and shadow cabinet ministers) across all parties.

On 18 June 2009 the details of all MPs' expenses and allowance claims that were approved during the period 2004 to 2008 were published on the official Parliament website. However items of detail such as addresses were redacted, and the publication excluded claims that were not approved for payment by the Commons authorities as well as any correspondence between MPs and the parliamentary fees office. These omissions resulted in further accusations of unnecessary secrecy, and widespread assertions that the most serious abuses would not have come to light had the censored documentation been the only information available. Details of voluntary repayments by MPs amounting to almost £500,000 were also officially published.

A panel was established to investigate all claims relating to the second homes allowance between 2004 and 2008. Headed by former civil servant Sir Thomas Legg, the panel published its findings on 12 October as MPs returned to Westminster following the summer recess. Each MP received a letter stating whether or not he or she would be required to repay any expenses claimed.

It was announced on 5 February 2010 that criminal charges would be prosecuted against Labour MPs Elliot Morley, David Chaytor and Jim Devine, and Conservative peer Lord Hanningfield in relation to false accounting. - cite_note-13 On 11 March all four announced they would plead not guilty to charges of false accounting. Potential cases against other unnamed MPs and Lords are still being considered by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service as of December 2010.

The Crown Prosecution Service announced on 19 May 2010 that Labour MP Eric Illsley would be charged with three counts of false accounting; he was also suspended from the Labour Party. It was revealed Lord Taylor of Warwick, a Conservative peer, had been charged with six counts of false accounting. On 13 October 2010 it was announced that former Labour MP Margaret Moran would also be charged with false accounting, while on 14 October 2010 former Minister of State for Europe and Labour MP Denis MacShane was referred to the Police following a complaint from the British National Party, as a consequence of which he was also suspended from the Labour Party.

Three Labour Peers were suspended on 18 October 2010 due to their expenses claims: Lord Bhatia was suspended from the House of Lords for eight months and told to repay £27,446; Lord Paul suspended from the House of Lords for four months and ordered to pay back £41,982 and Baroness Uddin faces a police investigation for alleged fraud for claiming at least £180,000 in expenses by designating an empty flat, and previously an allegedly nonexistent property as her main residence. She was suspended from the House of Lords until the end of 2012 and required to repay £125,349.

On 3 December 2010 David Chaytor pleaded guilty to charges of false accounting in relation to parliamentary expenses claims and was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment in early 2011

Reputation – Task

  1. Where do you stand? Reflect on the above information. Do you think the reputation of UK Members of Parliament has now been permanently affected? If so, why and if not, why not?

  1. Deconstruction - Underline or highlight all the points in this document that support the notion that the reputation of MPs has been damaged.

  1. Choose the strongest 3 points and include them in a paragraph of writing supporting the view that the reputation of MPs has been damaged.

  1. Extension - Comment on the reputation and implied problems caused by the press in this article.

2. Ability to See

The ‘ability to see’ concerns whether the source is in a position to know what they’re talking about. No matter how honest a source of information, if they don’t have access to the evidence then the value of their testimony is going to be limited. To assess a source using this criterion, consider whether the person was present to see what they are claiming occurred first-hand, and if they were, then whether there were any conditions that might have obstructed their view or otherwise impaired their access to evidence.

A witness who was in a good position to observe an event directly is more credible than one who isn’t. No matter how reputable or expert a witness is, if he couldn’t see what was going on then his testimony isn’t going to be much use.

Of course, this criterion is broader than just whether the witness has a good view of an event. In a disagreement about what someone said, this criterion would be satisfied by someone was there to hear; even a blind person can have an ‘ability to see’.

Ability to See - Case Study

Goal-line technology

In association football, goal-line technology is a technology which determines when the ball has completely crossed the goal line, assisting the referee in calling a goal or not. In the wake of controversial calls made in the Premier League, 2010 World Cup and the Euro 2012, FIFA (previously against the technology) is testing potential candidates for goal-line technology. Nine systems were initially tested, but only two remain. On July 5, 2012, IFAB officially approved the use of goal line technology. The two systems approved in principle were involved in test phase 2: GoalRef and Hawk-Eye.

The question of the inclusion of goal-line technology began to be raised in 2000 when during the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations final penalty shoot-out, Victor Ikpeba's penalty was considered not to have crossed the line by the referee. Television replays shown it had. Nigeria's opponents Cameroon went on to win the shootout and the Africa Cup of Nations.

Interest was ignited in the United Kingdom after a game between Manchester United F.C. and Tottenham Hotspur F.C., in which Tottenham midfielder Pedro Mendes hit a shot 45 yards from goal. United goalkeeper Roy Carroll caught the ball and then dropped it at least a yard over the line before hitting it back out, but neither the referee nor the linesman saw the ball cross the line. In response to this, FIFA decided to test a system by Adidas in which a football with an embedded microchip would send a signal to the referee if it crossed a sensor going through the goal. According to FIFA president Sepp Blatter: "We did different tests at the Under-17 World Cup in Peru but the evidence wasn't clear so we will carry out trials in junior competitions in 2007". However, those trials did not materialise and by 2008, Blatter had rejected the system outright, describing the technology as 'only 95% accurate'.

Another incident occurred in August 2009 in a league match between Crystal Palace and Bristol City. Striker Freddie Sears knocked the ball over the line from close range, but the ball bounced off the stanchion below the net and then came back out. The goal was not given and Palace manager Neil Warnock was furious. In March 2010, the International Football Association Board, which determines the laws of the game, voted 6-2 to permanently ditch the technology, with the Scotland and England football associations casting the dissenting votes. In a recent poll of 48 captains in the UEFA Europa League, 90% of respondents said that they wanted goal-line technology introduced. Following several refereeing errors at the 2010 FIFA World Cup – including the disallowed goal in Germany's 4–1 victory over England, when Frank Lampard hit a shot from outside of the penalty box that bounced off the crossbar and over the line; the ball came back out and the goal was disallowed because the assistant referee did not call for a goal - Blatter announced that FIFA would reopen the goal-line technology discussion.

Another instance of a controversial call was Chelsea’s 2–1 victory over Tottenham in 2011. Frank Lampard hit a shot just before halftime that slipped through the legs of Tottenham's goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, and almost crossed the line before being tipped back into play, however the assistant called for a goal and Chelsea tied the game. Chelsea were credited with another goal that did not cross the line against the same opponents in the 2012 FA Cup semi-finals, leading again to calls for goal-line technology. Yet another controversial instance occurred in the 2012 FA cup final between Liverpool and Chelsea in which Liverpool's striker Andy Carroll headed the ball which replays indicated to have crossed the line but the referee denied the goal. Chelsea went on to win the game by 2-1.

Initial testing

In July 2011, FIFA sanctioned tests on ten goal-line technology systems, requiring that the system notified the referee of the decision within one second of the incident happening. The message needed to be relayed via a visual signal and vibration. Tests were conducted by Empa between September and December 2011.

Ability to See - Tasks

Task 1

Do you think the introduction of goal line technology will improve the decision making capability of the referee?

Task 2

  1. Watch the video clips of the BP Gulf oil spill filmed from underwater

  1. Verify the clips

  2. Watch the clip showing the oil spill has now stopped

  1. Verify this clip

  2. Do you have enough information to make a judgement of:

  • The oil spill actually stopping?

  • The credibility of the video clips?

  1. How would you summarise your ability to see?

3. Vested Interest

The vested interest criterion refers to whether the source of information has anything personally at stake. If they might gain something by lying, then their credibility is weakened by their vested interest. If they might lose a lot by being caught lying, then their credibility is strengthened by a vested interest to tell the truth. Vested interest can either strengthen or weaken a person’s credibility, depending on whether they have most to gain by lying or by telling the truth.

Someone with a good reputation or a position to protect is more likely to tell the truth. If they were found to be lying, then they would lose this reputation or position, and so their vested interest strengthens their credibility. We wouldn’t expect them to put themselves at risk by giving a dishonest account.

More often, though, vested interest weakens credibility. For example, someone accused of a serious crime might have a vested interest to lie to stay out of jail, and so may protest their innocence even if guilty. Similarly, a mechanic saying what is wrong with a car might have a vested interest to get more work, and so may exaggerate its defects. In each of these cases, the vested interest of the witness might make us hesitate about accepting their testimony.

Vested Interest - Task
If you have a vested interest in something, you have a very strong reason for acting in a particular way, for example to protect your money, power, or reputation or because you want things to happen in a certain way so you will benefit from this e.g. to advertise your business.
Watch the videos below and determine who or what has a vested interest in performing these ‘flashmobs’.

4. Expertise

The fourth criterion is expertise. There are some situations in which it is difficult for normal observers to accurately interpret evidence because they lack specialised knowledge. For example, if I were to watch a high-level game of chess, my comments as to who was in the best position would be worthless, as even if I were able to see the board clearly I wouldn’t really know what was going on. My credibility about such matters would thus be weakened by my lack of expertise.

Does an observer have the necessary background knowledge and understanding to correctly interpret the evidence before them?

It is sometimes difficult to accurately interpret evidence without specialised knowledge. For example, someone watching a cricket match might not fully appreciate the tactical battle between bowler and batsmen, and as a result might reach a false conclusion as to how well each is playing. They may think that the batsman is playing poorly because he isn’t scoring any runs, for example, when actually he is playing excellent defensive strokes at a time when defence is the priority.

Similarly, if a person who doesn’t know how to drive were trying to apportion blame regarding a road accident that they had witnessed, then they may not be able to accurately judge who was at fault. Deciding whether a driver had taken a corner too quickly, or whose right of way it was at a junction, involves a certain amount of expertise, which a non-driver may well lack.

Possessing relevant expertise thus strengthens a witness’s credibility; lack of relevant expertise thus weakens it.

Expertise - Task 1

Whose expertise do you trust and why? Complete the table on the next page.

Who Are Your Experts?


Area of Expertise

Your Reasoning


Expertise Case Study
Who Are The Experts? The Web 2.0 Debate

Web 2.0 is a concept that takes the network as a platform for information sharing, interoperability, user-centred design, and collaboration on the Internet or World Wide Web. A Web 2.0 site allows users to interact and collaborate with each other in a social media dialogue as creators (prosumers) of user-generated content in a virtual community, in contrast to websites where users (consumers) are limited to the passive viewing of content that was created for them. Examples of Web 2.0 include social networking sites, blogs, wikis, video sharing sites, hosted services, web applications, mashups and folksonomies.

The term is closely associated with Tim O'Reilly because of the O'Reilly MediaWeb 2.0 conference which was held in late 2004. Although the term suggests a new version of the World Wide Web, it does not refer to an update to any technical specification, but rather to cumulative changes in the ways software developers and end-users use the Web. Whether Web 2.0 is substantively different from prior web technologies has been challenged by World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, who describes the term as jargon. His vision of the Web is "a collaborative medium, a place where we [can] all meet and read and write".

In terms of Web 2.0's social impact, critics such as Andrew Keen argue that Web 2.0 has created a cult of digital narcissism and amateurism, which undermines the notion of expertise by allowing anybody, anywhere to share and place undue value upon their own opinions about any subject and post any kind of content, regardless of their particular talents, knowledge, credentials, biases or possible hidden agendas. Keen's 2007 book, Cult of the Amateur, argues that the core assumption of Web 2.0, that all opinions and user-generated content are equally valuable and relevant, is misguided. Additionally, Sunday Times reviewer John Flintoff has characterized Web 2.0 as "creating an endless digital forest of mediocrity: uninformed political commentary, unseemly home videos, embarrassingly amateurish music, unreadable poems, essays and novels... [and that Wikipedia is full of] mistakes, half truths and misunderstandings". Michael Gorman, former president of the American Library Association has been vocal about his opposition to Web 2.0 due to the lack of expertise that it outwardly claims, though he believes that there is hope for the future.

"The task before us is to extend into the digital world the virtues of authenticity, expertise, and scholarly apparatus that have evolved over the 500 years of print, virtues often absent in the manuscript age that preceded print".

There is also a growing body of critique of Web 2.0 from the perspective of political economy. Since, as Tim O'Reilly and John Batelle put it, Web 2.0 is based on the "customers... building your business for you," critics have argued that sites such as Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are exploiting the "free labour" of user-created content. Web 2.0 sites use Terms of Service agreements to claim perpetual licenses to user-generated content, and they use that content to create profiles of users to sell to marketers. This is part of increased surveillance of user activity happening within Web 2.0 sites. Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard's Berkman Center for the Internet and Society argue that such data can be used by governments who want to monitor dissident citizens.
Expertise - Task 2:

Are comments posted on blogs as valid as those of recognised scholars?

5. Neutrality/Bias

The final ‘RAVEN’ criterion is neutrality or bias, i.e. whether someone is predisposed to support a particular point of view for reasons other than vested interest. Someone who knows other people involved in a dispute, for example, may be liable to side with them or against them depending on their relationship, weakening their credibility.

Neutral witnesses are witnesses who are likely to be objective, to reach a conclusion based on the evidence without being swayed by personal prejudice. The opposite of neutrality is bias. Someone is biased if they are pre-disposed to reach a certain conclusion.

The simplest way in which bias tends to arise is when people have good or bad relationships with other people involved. Witnesses may distort the truth in order to stand up for friends, relatives or colleagues, assuming that they get on with them. Witnesses might also lie in order to get enemies into trouble.

The best witness will therefore be a neutral witness, one without prejudice, unconnected to the other people involved in a dispute.

Students often confuse vested interest and neutrality. Vested interest refers to whether the witness personally has something at stake, whether they stand to gain or lose anything depending on how an event is interpreted. Witnesses may have no vested interest in an incident whatsoever, nothing personally at stake, but still suffer from bias, e.g. if they know others who are involved.

Objectivism and Subjectivism

Subjectivism is the idea that our knowledge is shaped by our perception, and in many cases limited to it, whereas objectivism is the idea that the things we perceive are independent of our perception of them. Thus in the case of subjectivism the key issue is whether there is anything behind (or outside) our perceptions whereas objectivism presents the problem of how we can know we are reliably perceiving anything which lies outside the scope of our perception. One might regard such a debate as futile. One may say, 'I know the world exists and I know people exist in it. Why should that be in any doubt?' Well consider the following picture:

To me this is a red dot. To you this may be a red dot as well. But how do we know this is a red dot? There are people in the world who may not see this as a red dot. Such people may be regarded as colour-blind because they claim to see it differently to me or you. They may also argue with us as to whose interpretation of the colour is right. How will we be able to tell who is right? We cannot ask other people as they may be possibly seeing things differently as well. It appears the only way we can have certain knowledge is to step outside our perceptions in order to test the 'hypothesis' that this is a red dot. Yet this is clearly not possible. As René Descartes (1596-1650) considered, we might be literally stuck inside our 'thoughts' (or our 'mind')!

In short, can we ever make rational objective decisions or are we constantly tied to our prior knowledge and experience and therefore forever biased?

Neutrality/Bias Task
Working in pairs:

  1. Determine the bias in the following websites:

  1. What factors have led you to those views?

  1. Formulate a researchable question around the issue of policing network sites.

  1. Check the question with your teacher.

  1. Undertake your research and produce a multimedia presentation lasting between 5 and 7 minutes.

6. Observation and Eyewitness Accounts

Testing the Validity of Observation Based Accounts

1. Observation- Eyewitness accounts are direct evidence. Evidence from those that saw an event firsthand. Observations are affected by:

  • How well could the author observe the thing s/he reports?

  • Were her/his senses equal to the observation?

  • Was her/his physical location suitable to sight, hearing, touch?

  • Did s/he have the proper social ability to observe?

  • Did s/he understand the language?

  • Prior knowledge - Expertise can affect the way that an eye-witness account is told.

  • Did s/he have enough of the appropriate expertise (e.g., law, military)?

  • Was s/he being intimidated?

2. How did the author report and what was her/his ability to do so?

  • Was s/he biased?

  • Did s/he have enough time for reporting?

  • Proper place for reporting?

  • Adequate recording instruments?

  • When did s/he report in relation to her/his observation? Soon? Much later? 50 years later?

  • What was the author's intention in reporting? For whom did s/he report?

  • Do her/his statements seem inherently improbable: e.g., contrary to human nature, or in conflict with what we know?

  • Are there inner contradictions in the document?

Eyewitness Case Study

The Assassination of John F Kennedy

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated as he travelled in an open-top car in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas on Friday at 12:30 pm, CST (1:30 pm EST) November 22, 1963; Texas Governor John Connally was also injured. Within two hours, Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the murder of Dallas policeman J.D. Tippit and arraigned that evening. At 1:35 am Saturday, Oswald was arraigned for murdering the President. At 11:21 am, Sunday, November 24, 1963, nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald as he was being transferred to the county jail.

Testimony of eyewitnesses

According to some assassination researchers, the grassy knoll was identified by the majority of witnesses as the area from where shots were fired. In March 1965, Harold Feldman wrote that there were 121 witnesses to the assassination with 51 indicating that the shots that killed Kennedy came from the area of the grassy knoll. In 1967, Josiah Thompson examined the statements of 64 witnesses and found that 33 of them thought that the shots emanated from the grassy knoll.

In 1966, Esquire magazine credited Feldman with ""advanc[ing] the theory that there were two assassins: one on the grassy knoll and one in the Book Depository." Jim Marrs also wrote that the weight of evidence suggested shots came from both the grassy knoll and the Texas School Book Depository.

Lee Bowers operated a railroad tower that overlooked the parking lot on the north side of the grassy knoll. He reported that he saw two men behind the picket fence at the top of the grassy knoll before the shooting. The men did not appear to be acting together and did not appear to be doing anything suspicious. After the shooting, Bowers said that one of the men remained behind the fence. Bowers said that he lost track of the second man whose clothing blended into the foliage. When interviewed by Mark Lane, Bowers noted that he saw something that attracted his attention, either a flash of light, or maybe smoke, from the knoll, leading him to believe "something out of the ordinary" had occurred there. Bowers told Lane he heard three shots, the last two in quick succession. Bowers opined that they could not have come from the same rifle.

William and Gayle Newman were standing at the curb on the north side of Elm St. with their two children. Mr. Newman said that a shot was fired from behind him (from the knoll) and that it was the shot that hit Kennedy in the head.

Jesse Price was the building engineer for the Terminal Annex Building, located across from the Texas School Book Depository on the opposite side of Dealey Plaza. On November 22, 1963, Price viewed the presidential motorcade from the Terminal Annex Building's roof. In an interview with Mark Lane, Price said that he believed the shots came from "just behind the picket fence where it joins the underpass”. "He claimed to have seen a " run towards the passenger cars on the railroad siding after the volley of shots."

Numerous witnesses reported hearing gunfire coming from the Dal-Tex Building, which is located across the street from the Texas School Book Depository and in alignment with Elm Street in Dealey Plaza.

Eyewitness Task: How credible are eyewitness accounts in the above article?
7. Corroborative Evidence
Corroborative evidence can be broadly defined as any evidence that further supports some evidence that already exists in a case. The evidence that is already there can be called the primary evidence, and the evidence that supports it can be called the secondary evidence. What is meant when it is said that the secondary evidence supports the primary evidence is that the secondary evidence increases the probative weight of the primary evidence. Let’s take an example where a witness testified that she saw the defendant drive his car into a red car. Subsequent to that a second witness testified that he saw red paint on the fender of the defendant’s car on the day after the accident. In this case both kinds of evidence are based on testimony. The primary evidence is the testimony of the first witness that she saw the defendant drive his car into the red car. The secondary, or corroborating evidence, is the testimony of the second witness that he saw red paint on the fender of the defendant's car.
In other cases, corroborating evidence can combine different types of evidence. For example, a witness might testify that she saw the defendant at the crime scene on the day the crime was committed. This would be the primary evidence. The secondary evidence might be DNA evidence taken from blood samples found at the crime scene matching the defendant’s DNA. In this case, the secondary evidence is not testimonial evidence, but it might appear in a trial in that form, as expert scientific testimony would be required to prove that the DNA found at the crime scene matched that of the defendant.
Corroboration may also be taken to refer to the requirement in countries like Scotland where the testimony of a single witness is required to be supported by some additional evidence before it is admissible. In Scottish law corroboration requires that two or more sources are needed in order for witness testimony to count as evidence.
Continue to cross-check all sources of information, claims made etc. by providing corroborating evidence.

8. Images as Evidence

You will often see images offered as concrete proof that a claim is true. However, despite the cliché, the camera can lie. To evaluate the support that an image lends to a claim, there are three criteria that you need to bear in mind: relevance, significance, and selectivity.


The first criterion is relevance. For an image to support a claim, it must depict all of the key ideas contained in the claim. If it doesn’t relate to any part of a claim, then it can’t prove the claim. Obviously, relevance is a matter of degree, but the more relevant an image is to a claim, the better the evidence that it provides.


The second criterion is significance. This concerns how much interpretation of the image is necessary; does the image speak for itself, or must we make assumptions about it in order for it to support the claim?


The third criterion is selectivity, which is to do with how representative the image is. If a general claim is supported by an image of a specific example, then we have to ask whether the example in the image is typical. It may be that it has been carefully selected to support a point, when actually most examples would go against it.

Images as Evidence Case Study

This image was selected as picture of the day on Wikimedia Commons for 15 April 2009. It was captioned as follows:

Apollo 15 Lunar Module Pilot James Irwin salutes the U.S. flag. Astronaut James B. Irwin, lunar module pilot, gives a military salute while standing beside the deployed U.S. flag during the Apollo 15 lunar surface extravehicular activity (EVA) at the Hadley-Apennine landing site. The flag was deployed toward the end of EVA-2. The Lunar Module "Falcon" is partially visible on the right. Hadley Delta in the background rises approximately 4,000 meters (about 13,124 feet) above the plain. The base of the mountain is approximately 5 kilometers (about 3 statute miles) away. This photograph was taken by Astronaut David R. Scott, Apollo 15 commander.

Images as Evidence Task
1. Given that there have been numerous conspiracy theories surrounding the lunar landings, how might we be sure that this image is reliable?
2. Can you find a photographic studio mock-up of a lunar landing?
3. Which is the more reliable image, the one above or the one you found and why?

9. Selectivity and Representativeness
The evidence presented in reports, articles, tv programmes or websites is always selected in some way. Selection inevitably has to happen as it is not practical or feasible to collect or present all the information available. Therefore, we are unsure if the facts given are representative of whole populations or participants in research have been selected to give specific results. Ideally, the evidence would be representative of the population or situation as a whole so it can be generalised. Researchers use a range of methods, such as random sampling so as to give everyone an equal chance of being chosen, as there is not time to question the whole population.
Evidence is sometimes specially selected in support of an argument and evidence going against the argument will be ignored. This type of selection is often made by vested interest or bias. The presentation of unrepresentative information, biased samples or specially selected evidence will decrease the credibility of a source.

Selectivity and Representativeness Task

A researcher is trying to find out what people think about a new government policy to reduce the amount of tax couples with children need to pay. He decides to ask the same set of questions to randomly selected members of the public in a shopping mall over a seven day period.

What are the potential problems with this method of data collection?

How might he improve his research?

Examples of problems of representativeness can be found on:

Types of statistical misuse can be found on:

10. Context
This is the setting or situation in which evidence is produced. This includes things like ability to see and observing what happened, motives in misrepresenting the truth and the difficulties of judging what is true. We need to be aware of the context in order to see how it may have shaped the evidence. The context includes where the event happened, how many people were there, what year the evidence was written in, the political and economical views. Journalistic reports often depend on the context they get their information from and who or what they are biased towards. If evidence comes from questions and answers, these answers are given in a certain social context, i.e. a relationship with the interviewer. Social desirability can mean people want to present themselves in the best possible light so will emphasis their positive features and down play their negative ones. Interviewer effects can mean that people may respond to questions in terms of the way they are presented with it. The linguistic content can influence the answers people give by asking leading questions…
Context Case Study:
The Leveson Inquiry

The Leveson Inquiry is an ongoing public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press following the News International phone hacking scandal. On 6 July 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron announced to Parliament that an inquiry would be established under the Inquiries Act 2005 to further investigate the affair. On 13 July, Cameron appointed Lord Justice Leveson as Chairman of the inquiry, with a remit to look into the specific claims about phone hacking at the News of the World, the initial police inquiry and allegations of illicit payments to police by the press, and a second inquiry to review the general culture and ethics of the British media.

Context Task:
The inquiry throws up many questionable contextually based issues. Study the website and its reports. Can you point out where people have lied to the inquiry committee and if so, what do you suggest their motives were?

11. Sources and Types of Evidence
Classification of evidence

Primary and Secondary sources: The distinction between primary and secondary sources varies in different areas. For historians, primary material consists of evidence from the period they are studying and secondary material is writings by historians which may include selected analyzed and interpreted evidence. In sociology, primary evidence is new material produced as part of their research and all other evidence not gained personally is secondary.

First hand and second hand evidence: First hand evidence is the same as an eyewitness account, meaning an event has been directly observed. Second hand evidence is hearsay or a report from some one who has the heard of the event from some one else. First hand evidence is usually seen as more credible as often when information is passed on details may be missed out or altered.
Direct and Circumstantial evidence: These are legal terms used in courts of law. Direct evidence refers to eyewitness testimony and circumstantial evidence is non direct evidence which has been inferred or suggested.
Historical evidence

It is often hard to assess whether historical evidence is genuine. It is often worth a lot of money so people tend to fake it. History has been rewritten through doctoring of evidence such as forging documents and tampering with photos.

Time and evidence: Generally, the further back we go in time, the less evidence there is available and most of it is written from the viewpoint of the powerful so it is not representative of the whole population. Historians have to therefore construct the history of many people from no direct evidence therefore there credibility should be questioned.
Evidence from social sciences

Social scientists often use statistical data which can lead to problems as the data may not have been gathered in a fair way so may be unreliable. It is uncertain whether statistics measure what they claim to measure. Participant observation is one way of collecting information, however this can cause problems as people act differently when they are being watched. Interviews can also be shaped by investigator effects or social desirability and the samples are often not representative. Questionnaire results can also be difficult to trust as credible as the sample may not be representative, the questions may be ambiguous and unreflective of real life and may not measure what they are designed to measure. Experiments often cause problems as they are seen as artificial.

Internet Evidence

Assessing the credibility on internet sources is crucial as any one can set up a website airing their views, containing false information or being a reliable source. Reputation and neutrality will aid to credibility of websites. If a company is known for producing balanced reports it is likely they won’t report a hoax as they don’t want their reputation ruined. The writers of the article will affect the credibility, if they are experts we are more likely to believe them. Some government internet sites have a vested interest in bias in promoting a particular policy. Pressure groups will usually only present one side of an issue.

Quick Check: The Credibility of Web Sourced Information
Below is a summary of the features we would consider when judging the credibility of a website:

  • Are they an international or national organisation – does this have a bearing?

  • Age of organisation – how long has it been in existence?

  • Date of report

  • Can you cross-check the information with other sources?

  • Is the author acknowledged?

  • Is the information from primary or secondary sources and does this matter?

  • R = Reputation

  • A = Ability to See

  • V = Vested Interest

  • E = Expertise

  • N = Neutrality/Bias

Task: Use the above as a check list when assessing the credibility of the information on the following websites:
Report back on the credibility of the material and the reporting styles of the organisations. Give a summary of the viewpoints expressed.

12. Making a Reasoned Judgement
Argument = Reason + Conclusion

  • Argument – The presentation of one or more reasons to support a conclusion.

  • Reason – A claim that supports a conclusion.

  • Conclusion – A claim that is supported by one or more reasons.

  • Argument indicator - A word which links a reason and a conclusion.

Types of Reasoning

  • Simple reasoning – There is a conclusion that is supported by a reason.

  • Side by side reasoning – Two reasons independent of each other support a conclusion.

  • Joint reasoning – Two reasons from which one conclusion can be drawn. It would not be possible to draw a conclusion from one of the reasons on its own.

  • Chain reasoning – Reasoning linked together.

  • Joint reasons – Reasons which have been used together to support a conclusion.

  • Assumption – An Assumption is an unstated reason.

  • Principal – A principal is a general statement about how something should be. There are moral, legal and ethical principals. Principals are inflexible and cannot be bent to fit particular situations.

  • Counter argument – A counter argument is an argument that opposes another argument. Counter arguments can be included in an argument in order to dismiss that argument.

  • Counter claims – Counter claims or counter assertions are claims that are dismissed in an argument. The claims to not agree with the main conclusion.

  • A counter-example is an example that challenges the truth of a claim. Counter-examples challenge generalizations.

  • Hypothetical reasoning – Something will happen on the condition that something else happens.

  • Value judgements – A judgement based upon a value (e.g. murder is wrong). People have conflicting values and values change over time.

  • Definitions – Definitions are precise meanings of a word or phrase. Definitions can be argued over e.g. the definition of rape.

Causal explanations – Cause and effect (Smoking causes cancer).

  • A common cause – A correlation between two things is caused by a third factor.

  • A correlation between two things may be caused by chance.

  • Direction of causation – Does A cause B or does B cause A.

  • Some things have multi-causal explanations – explanations which show that there is more than one cause causing an effect.

An analogy is a comparison between two things which are seen to be similar.

  • Criteria to evaluate an argument by analogy

    • 1. Number of instances

    • 2. Number of similarities

    • 3. Strength of conclusion

    • 4. Relevance

    • 5. Number of differences

  • Extreme analogies should be avoided as they can weaken an argument.

Inductive and deductive arguments

An inductive argument is the process by which the premises of an argument are believed to support the conclusion but do not ensure or guarantee it:

e.g. All observed crows are black.


All crows are black.
Unless we can systematically verify the possibility of crows of another colour, the statement may actually be false. The statement is therefore inductive. For example, one could examine the bird's genes and learn whether it's genetically capable of producing a differently coloured offspring. In doing so, we might discover that albinism is possible, resulting in white crows.

A deductive argument is an argument in which it is thought that the premises do provide an absolute guarantee of the truth of the conclusion. In a deductive argument, the premises are intended to provide support for the conclusion that is so strong that, if the premises are true, it would be impossible for the conclusion to be false.

e.g. There are 32 books on the top-shelf of the bookcase and 12 on the lower shelf of the bookcase. There are no books anywhere else in my bookcase. Therefore, there are 44 books in the bookcase.
Are the following statements inductive or deductive and why?
1. The members of the Williams family are Susan, Nathan and Alexander.
Susan wears glasses.
Nathan wears glasses.
Alexander wears glasses.
Therefore, all members of the Williams family wear glasses.
2. It has snowed in Glasgow every December in recorded history.
Therefore, it will snow in Glasgow this coming December.

3. Bergen is either in Norway or Sweden. If Bergen is in Norway, then Bergen is in Scandinavia. If Bergen is in Sweden, then Bergen is in Scandinavia. Therefore, Bergen is in Scandinavia.

4. Either Elizabeth owns a VW Beetle or she owns a Ford Ka.
Elizabeth does not own a VW Beetle.
Therefore, Elizabeth owns a Ford Ka.
5. All basketballs are round.
The Earth is round.
Therefore, the Earth is a basketball.

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