Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Who Watches the Watchmen?
We here at Infoplease like to encourage source literacy—that means the ability to sort out useful sources and to identify potential bias. We like to think of ourselves as impartial to the data, but the info we use impacts what we put on the web.
Usually, Infoplease pages will have their specific sources listed on the page. These will be under the relevant data or at the bottom of the article. But, some of our older pages lack proper citation. We use the same sources over and over again. It can skip our minds to cite them as new. If you're ever curious about where a page sources its information from, email us email@example.com or contact us through the link in our footer. We'll make sure to include that information on the page in question.
In general, articles on Infoplease reference the following:
The CIA World Factbook
The CIA World Factbook is a reference containing official figures and estimates for "267 world entities" comprising countries, disputed states, and more. All of our country profiles source from the World Factbook. We do this for two reasons. The first is that the World Factbook offers a wide range of data for all of the countries we profiles. The second is that we get pretty consistent information by pulling from the same source. We can expect the data to be similarly biased across the board.
The United Nations
The UN is about as official a source as one can find. The different specialized agencies of the UN gather all sorts of valuable data which they publish annually. We refer to these agencies all across the site. We use these sources in pages comparing countries or discussing global statistics. We reference UNESCO when discussing world culture and heritage. The different agencies are listed below.
- Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
- International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
- International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
- International Labour Organization (ILO)
- International Maritime Organization (IMO)
- International Monetary Fund (IMF)
- International Telecommunications Union (ITU)
- United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
- United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)
- Universal Postal Union (UPU)
- World Bank Group
- World Health Organization (WHO)
- World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
- World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
- World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)
You can learn more about the functions of these different agencies on the official UN website.
The U.S. Census Bureau
We often refer to the Census Bureau since it provides the official count of people in the United States. Any time we're discussing the U.S. population we're likely pulling some numbers from either the census or the American Community Survey. We also host and reorganize the census results for your reading pleasure. The official data can be hard to track down and parse.
Other U.S. Departments
We also refer to the published data and results of other U.S. agencies and departments. These groups present the official figures for the United States for everything from education to the economy. We might offer opposing data, but these official data are the most reliable. Regardless the policies and politics of the departments, people across the political spectrum generally agree on the basic information they gather and publish. Most of our U.S. pages will refer to these sources.
State Government Websites
Most state governments and state departments have official data we use for our state profiles. Our state profiles and all of the pages related to those (e.g. state symbols) refer back to state government websites. We'll sometimes use third party sites that compile rankings and information between the states. There are too many for us to list here. You can find these pages by searching "[State Name] [Department Name]".
The Library of Congress
The LOC is one of the largest archives in the world. They have all kinds of letters, books, and images. Whenever we're looking for a primary source or historic document, we'll check the LOC. We source from here for history pages and pages discussing culture in the U.S.
The Columbia Encyclopedia
The Columbia Encyclopedia is a brief one- or two-volume encyclopedia published by the Columbia University Press. Although encyclopedias aren't ideal sources for academic papers, they're very handy for quick reference or for simple informative articles like we have here on Infoplease. We can consider it reliable since it comes from a respected university press. The Columbia Encyclopedia is hosted in its entirety here at Infoplease under "Encyclopedia."
The American Medical Association
The American Medical Association comprises a huge number of physicians and medical students in the United States. The AMA typically represents the majority opinion of American doctors about different issues. We'll cite the AMA in articles about medicine, biology, or healthcare in the United States. When useful, we'll cite major dissenting opinions, but we rely on the AMA to present the best-held medical opinions.
The Red Cross
The Red Cross publishes a great deal of data about disasters and global health. They consider reliable info an important tool in their mission. The data published by the Red Cross is used by the UN and world governments to guide relief efforts around the world.
Official Award Results
Awards always publicly announce their results. We often don't bother sourcing these because the source is self-evident; in a page discussing the year's Pulitzer winners, we obviously checked the official list of Pulitzer winners. We will link out to the official awards page if they have other useful information about the winners or the selection process.
Primary Sources in the Public Domain
When quoting historical figures or literary classics, we'll usually just link to the source we got our information from. This will typically be Project Gutenberg or various national archives. Sometimes when citing public domain sources, we'll just use a contextual citation (like saying what chapter of a book a quote is from) since these are available to anyone who searches for them. Feel free to contact us if you're having trouble tracking down a quote or statistic.
Foreign Tourism Boards
When we're looking for cool or unusual things we often go to different national or regional tourism boards. These organizations, whose job is drumming up interest in the places they represent, publish interesting facts that could attract (or inform) tourists. We'll use these for more esoteric articles or when discussing local culture in our country profiles. Like with the state government pages, there are too many to list. If you search "[Place] tourism board" you'll find results.
Other sources we use for more in-depth articles are:
Journals and Articles on JSTOR
JSTOR is a digital library compiling back issues (and some current issues) of hundreds of academic journals. We only cite JSTOR materials when discussing complicated subjects. The content of these journals is targeted more at experts than casual readers, but they collectively represent some of the most thorough and valuable scholarship available. A bit of a note on academic journals though; not all journals are equal. A good journal should have the support of respected scholars, and any papers they publish should be looked at by several (possibly dissenting) experts before publication. This process is meant to ensure that the basic level of scholarship is high and that the ideas being presented aren't based on flawed practices.
Cambridge and Oxford Histories
Infoplease doesn't want to take a side in the historic feud between these two illustrious universities. But, the Cambridge Histories are some of the most respected sources available; these mammoth tomes are written by teams of experts to offer a comprehensive overview of different historical subjects. These books aren't very accessible for non-academic readers in terms of complexity and cost. Oxford doesn't have a comparable product line. Rather, they have specific texts like the Oxford History of the British Empire. We reference them when discussing historical subjects that are very complicated and nuanced. We do our best to make them accessible for the common reader.
You'll find that the world is chock full of historical societies dedicated to preserving the history of different places, people, and things. These historical societies host events and publish information to educate the public about whatever their particular niche is. We source from historical societies within the realm of what we're writing about; e.g. if we're writing about the American Revolution, we can get lots of helpful info from our local historical associations like Historic New England.