Suppose you’re a brand-new beginner prepper/survivalist, and want to learn more. How can you tell if a website is valid, or if it is BS? Here are some things to look for.
by Leon Pantenburg
My career has been spent in the news business, and for decades, I was an investigative reporter/photographer. Today, I am the advisor/instructor of The Broadside, the newspaper and a media outlet for Central Oregon Community College in Bend, Oregon. One of the sessions I teach involves finding credible sources.
Here’s what I learned about the internet and valid information, and some criteria for deciding if you can trust a website:
Credentials: There is no national or international accrediting organization for survival instructors that I know of. Basically, you have to rely the author’s word about his training. Things to look for could be outdoors experience and association with groups (Search and Rescue Teams, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts etc.) which spend a lot of time outdoors. These associations are easily found in communities, and valid instructors are easy to check out.
Military service is not an indication of wilderness survival expertise. As a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Army, I never was sent to a wilderness survival school, nor was that part of the training for people in my specialty. The military typically only trains people in skills they will need to do their jobs.
Beware of those who claim to have “trained” with certain elite units. People are not just allowed to tag along on trainings that don’t directly relate to their Military Occupational Specialty.
To check out a military expert, look up his/her Document of Discharge 214 (DD-214). These are public records, and will list dates of service, places he served and schools attended. Don’t buy the “top secret” excuse. If someone was in the military, he/she was paid and had dates of induction and discharge. These are public record.
If there is a mysterious blank space in someone’s employment or business resume, check to see if that person was incarcerated during that time. These records are also public, but obtaining them may vary from state to state.
Beware of people with no known address, or who are vague about what part of the country they live in.
Where do they live? IMHO, OpSec is a joke, and you’re only fooling yourself. If you go anywhere, there are multitudes of hidden cameras watching every parking lot, convenience store or shopping mall. There is no escape, and just about every phone has a video capability.
And let’s not forget the invisible surveillance drones that can observe anything. Or google maps. If anyone wants to find where you live, they can check with the county property records, another public document.
It’s on the internet (or published in a newspaper, or the person being quoted is recognized as an expert from somewhere). Don’t believe anything without a credible source (Hmmm…so how do we verify this statement? Stay with us – it will all be revealed in a few paragraphs.)
Wikipedia is not considered a valid source by reputable newspapers or news stations, because anyone can post anything about any topic.
Common sense: There may be some actions a so-called expert might take that set off your BS alarm. Pay attention to these.
In one instance, an “expert” created a dugout shelter in a dry streambed in a desert. Anybody with a rudimentary knowledge of gravity would know a dry creek bed is where rainwater will flow to, and subsequently be the site for a flash flood. So this dugout created the lowest point in an established path of a flash flood!
In another instance, a popular “reality survival expert” dove headfirst into a pool without checking first for obstructions. (Look up one of the most common reasons for spinal cord injuries among young people.)
A lack of common sense indicates the author is short on something. It may be knowledge.
Nicknames: In the news business, we don’t rely on anonymous sources unless there is the potential for extreme danger to the source. Even then, the decision to use an anonymous source is made on a case-by-case basis.
Personally, I think any author is suspect who relies entirely on a pen name. It is a credibility issue – you can’t google a nickname and find much. But someone like Lisa Bedford, The Survival Mom, is real. I’ve met her and she runs one of the most credible websites I know of.
Likewise with Jarhead Survivor of SHTF Blog. I know Jarhead’s real name, the part of the country he writes about and that he is a credible source. He chooses to not use his real name online.
So who can you believe? Check out these aspects of any survival website:
Apply the following criteria to ANY website or source of information before you decide to trust it, according to Central Oregon Community College Emerging Technologies Librarian Michele DeSilva.
- Who is responsible for the website? What are the author or organization’s credentials? (Hint: if you have trouble determining who is responsible for the website, it’s probably not that credible!)
- Don’t rely on a site’s domain alone for determining a website’s credibility! Anyone can register an .org site, for any reason. .Edu sites can have student projects or really out-of-date pages. Many .com sites are excellent sources of information.
- One exception: .gov sites are reserved solely for U.S. government sites and are generally pretty credible (unless they are out of date, so be sure you know when the site was created and updated.)
- Look for an “about” page (or a “mission” or “purpose” page). What’s the purpose for this website? Is there a particular point of view that informs the Website?
- Is the website’s content up to date? When was content last posted? Where is content coming from? Is the author creating it or collecting content from other sites/sources? If the content is coming from other places, what, if any, value is added by the website you’re looking at?
- Some sites exist just to generate advertising revenue! They copy content from Wikipedia or other free, online sources just to drive traffic to their sites.
- Does the author cite his or her sources? Is his or her information verifiable?
- If the author is presenting something as his or her original research, what gives the author credentials, or expertise, in this area?
- Are there lots of spelling and grammatical errors on the website? Any obvious factual inaccuracies?
- How many ads are on the page? Are there lots of links to commercial sites that have little or no relation to the topic the website is about?
- A good site can have ads (Mine does – please buy stuff!) but, again, watch out for those sites that exist just for commercial purposes.
So can you rely on a survival website to learn something?
A place to start would be to decide on a preparedness-related topic you have some knowledge of, for example, canning. Find a canning website you can trust, based on valid information you can personally verify. Then ask the author if he/she can recommend a specialized website or source for other things you need to learn more about.
Most of us in the preparedness industry are happy to refer people to other subject matter experts. When it comes to canning, I don’t know diddly and am completely incompetent to provide any information. But I know some people who could help you out.
And since by now you should be questioning my credentials for writing this story, here they are: