The Backbone of an Argument

Claims that are used in arguments must be properly supported in order to contribute as a whole. If the original information is changed or exaggerated, the overall credibility of the work could be subject to question. Darrell West’s report on big data’s application in education (link) retains its credibility because it uses reliable and accurate citations as a backbone for its argument.

To prove that West’s report can be trusted, one must look closely at how he cites his sources and how those sources shape his argument (or how he shapes his sources to match his argument). At the bottom of each page that contains an external reference, West points the reader to his sources.

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 11.17.02 PMTo prove that West’s use of of other researchers knowledge  is consistent with their research, it is necessary to look closer at the reference in the footer. By taking the title of Joseph Beck and Jack Mostow work listed in the footer as source number 5 and searching for the document online, one can easily find an abstract of the original document (link). While this work also contains references to external sources, the aspect that west was referring to (reading one story multiple times does not lend to as much learning as reading a variety of stories) was researched and carried out by the authors of the source. This makes this document the primary source for this particular piece of information in West’s report.

The work by Joseph Beck and Jack Mostow contained information that was consistent with what West claimed in his report:

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 11.32.39 PM

West’s use of the source was honest and accurate. He brought in external information, properly sited it, and correctly reported the content of the source. His individual interpretation of the source (and how it affects education), as with any citation, is what provides backing for his argument. In this case, the source was referring to the effects of rereading on learning and West showed that this can be applied to education through the use of computer  aided education. The source provided backbone information and West shaped it in a way to support his argument.


6 thoughts on “The Backbone of an Argument”

  1. The use of sources is very important to the credibility of published papers but I think that it is also important to note that just because the sources are used does not necessarily mean that the the paper is accurately representing the original intention of the sourced content or even if the source is reliable itself. Although this may not be present in this particular paper, sometimes the sources used may be regarded as “unreliable.” One of the more notable examples of this is citing Wikipedia as a source; Wikipedia articles may have their own source that is cited or may not have a source at all.

    1. That is a very good point. It is important to make sure that each cited source is reliable in order for the work to be credible. For this report I did not find any unreliable sources but it is difficult to search every cited source and make sure. That being said, I still believe this report is reliable because it establishes authority but if any of the sources are found to be unreliable, the validity of the report may be brought into question.

      1. In addition, one must be aware that very credible sources can be taken out of context and used to support a claim that the original author of the source was not trying to support. There is absolutely no way to catch this unless we actually go back and read through the actual section of the source that was cited, which most people often times won’t do. We trust the authors that they are representing information the way it was meant to be represented, however sometimes authors will take advantage of that trust to further their own agenda.

        1. I think that in many cases, trust of the author is essential to how reliable we consider the source to be. If the author presents his or herself as credible, then we as readers and analyzers are more likely to believe what they have written. This can be tricky though because an author that seems credible may not be.

  2. One thing that always bothers me about citing sources is the chain of sources that is formed with each work. One article may reference to ten other sources of information, but those ten sources also reference several other sources and the chain goes on and on. But although this in a way bothers me, it is a good representation of how the data and information of this generation is all interconnected and built upon each other. Based on your analysis it does seem like the author wrote a reliable paper based on credible sources.

    1. One point about this chain of sources that can lead to unreliable information is a chain of false data, so to speak. If any one source along a chain of references is not reliable or it skewes data, then all the subsequent references may also be unreliable. For this reason, It is important to look at the root or primary sources of each piece of information. The difficult part with this article, as with any, is that it relies on multiple sources. It can be hard to trace reliability through many sources.

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