Virtually since the advent of the internet, there’s been a tendency in our hobby to rate the reliability and trustworthiness of online content beneath that of print-format materials—books, magazines, and so forth. But is this assessment really fair?
The general premises behind this viewpoint are:
- Anyone with a computer and internet connection can post anything they want online, whether or not he or she has the requisite expertise to expound on the subject.
- Online articles and posts are seldom given professional editorial treatment and/or subjected to peer review, so you can’t trust that they’ve been vetted properly for accuracy.
- There tends to be an “echo-chamber effect” online, so inaccurate or outright fallacious information appearing on one site can be picked up immediately by others and repeated ad nauseam, creating the false impression of consensus on the information/viewpoint.
Now, there’s truth to each of these arguments, but as someone who’s made his living as a writer/editor for nearly 20 years (primarily in print format) and once served on an editorial committee that reviewed book submissions for a major retail pet chain, I can say with some confidence that print materials have their limitations as reference sources, too.
- Just as with online materials, print books and magazines are no more reliable or accurate than the writers and editors who produce them. You can’t assume that just because someone went to the effort to produce something in hardcopy, the information it contains was properly vetted.
- The longer production schedules associated with printed materials can mean (note emphasis) that some of the information they contain is already stale if not obsolete by the time they go to press.
- Building on that last point, if you’re trying to research the very latest trends in technology or methodology—or something like the currently accepted scientific name of a particular species—you may have difficulty finding it in printed format (again, note emphasis).
Rather than place print over online content in the research hierarchy or vice versa, we should recognize that both formats have their pros and cons and both have their place. Where you should turn first when doing hobby homework should depend not on a sweeping generalization, but on what you’re trying to achieve and the type of information you need.
For example, right behind me as I type this is a shelf full of well-thumbed aquarium reference books penned by authoritative authors that I still reach for on a regular basis—including Bob Fenner’s Conscientious Marine Aquarist, Jay Hemdal’s The Salt Smart Guide to Preventing, Diagnosing, and Treating Diseases of Marine Fishes, Scott Michael’s Reef Fishes series, Eric Borneman’s Aquarium Corals, Delbeek and Sprung’s The Reef Aquarium, and Martin Moe’s Marine Aquarium Handbook to name but a few. Of course, I also have stacks of Tropical Fish Hobbyist magazines, dating back several decades, here at my disposal. These are all great resources when I need good, durable, foundational information.
On the other hand, I couldn’t survive a day as a hobby author/editor without access to Fishbase.org, the Integrated Taxonomic Information system (ITIS.gov), and various other online information sources. And those are just my go-to sources for certain data. There are plenty of other trustworthy sites out there on the “interwebs” that you can turn to for quality, reliable, authoritative information. Of course, Caribbean Chris and I take great pride in the content we offer here at Saltwater Smarts and do our level best to ensure everything we put out is accurate and easy to comprehend.
Whether you’re researching with print materials, internet sites, or both, the key is always to vet the source. Don’t just take to heart any opinion you come across in a publication, blog, or forum. Ask other hobbyists who have successful marine systems which books, magazines, websites, and authors/experts helped them get where they are today. Then follow their lead!
What’s your take?
So, fellow salties, what’s your take on this topic? Where do you do the bulk of your research? Let us know in the comment section below.