You have started reading this article, but you shouldn’t trust the knowledge that I’m sharing with you. When you read an article, you don’t know who the person that has written it really is. Of course, you can read that I have almost 10 years of experience in leading developers, but how do you know whether my leadership was good or bad? You can read that I've been a developer for more than 15 years, but what if all I’ve developed is crap? How would you know? You could say that you’ve seen my other articles and I might go around saying that all my content is valuable, whereas in reality, there is no evidence to support such a claim.
Of course you might trust the seemingly credible individuals who have written books, which seems quite an accomplishment in itself, considering the effort necessary to create that much content and the competitiveness of the publishing market. But still, some caution is advisable. Let’s not forget the story of James Ray, a very popular motivational speaker and book author who was later convicted of causing three deaths through negligent homicide resulting from his teachings. (Lacey)
People who write articles may not feel accountable for the negative consequences of their writing. This responsibility lies solely within the reader. (McKay and McKay)
You might also come across articles that are created only for sales purposes. They usually make reference to the same, well-known cases and are aimed at building the publisher's word stats in search engines. Those can try to fool you to increase revenue. (Thompson)
When reading articles, it’s good to switch on critical thinking, meaning verifying what a given article says, comparing it to what you know and then verifying your current knowledge against what you’ve read. You should also try to apply the ideas and concepts you read about to your circumstances, your work, your life and your values.
Scientific publications are usually well-grounded sources of information that should always be your first choice, but it's still worthwhile to verify where and by whom they were published. Keep in mind that scientific publications are required to have confidence level of at least 95%, which means that 5% of information contained in them may still be false. The most trusted resources are meta-research papers. However, they are rare and they too aren’t set in stone because the state of the art is changing over time. (Ioannidis)
Another good idea is to read articles containing opinions conflicting with your own. Otherwise you might be susceptible to confirmation bias, where you will read only such articles that confirm your wrong thinking. (Nickerson)
Remember that ideas are worthless - execution is key (Masicampo and Baumeister). Articles can spark new ideas, new approaches to test in your own environment. They can also draw your attention to new aspects of the problem which may allow verifying the outcome of specific actions and deciding whether the change was good or bad. They can help you build the knowledge necessary for further exploration of a given issue, as well as broaden your horizons in a more general way, so that even if you can't apply new ideas and solutions right away, they might come in handy eventually.
If you are interested more in self-development topics and want to read more about it, here's a list of articles and books that inspired me to write this article.
- Ioannidis, John P. A. “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False.” PLoS Medicine, vol. 2, no. 8, 2005, p. 0696.
- Lacey, Marc. “New Age Guru Guilty in Sweat Lodge Deaths.” The New York Times, 22 June 2011, accessed 31 Aug 2021.
- Masicampo, E. J., and Roy F. Baumeister. “Consider it done! Plan making can eliminate the cognitive effects of unfulfilled goals.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 101, no. 4, 2011, pp. 667–683.
- McKay, Brett, and Kate McKay. “Beyond “Sissy” Resilience: On Becoming Antifragile.” The Art of Manliness, 10 April 2020, accessed 31 Aug 2021.
- Nickerson, Raymond S. Confirmation Bias: A Ubiquitous Phenomenon in Many Guises., 1998.
- Thompson, Dennis F. “Understanding Financial Conflicts of Interest List of authors.” New England journal of medicine, vol. 329, no. 8, 1993, pp. 573-576.