NOTE: This article has been revised and published in the Library Student Journal.
Even a cursory review of social science literature reveals a wealth of research into the role that skepticism plays in the forms of information behavior studied within communication, consumer psychology, education, journalism and media studies, and public policy, to name only a handful of disciplines. In much of this research, the effects of skepticism are found to be strong and numerous, and yet it seems that skepticism has not been studied to a great extent within the body of human-information behavior research. The goals of this paper are two-fold: the first being to establish skepticism as a factor which ought to be considered in cognitive-affective models of human-information behavior, via a large-scale overview of social science research; and the second being to show that a rational form of skepticism is a healthy trait to cultivate among information-seekers. I am interested in the role of skepticism â€“ defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as "an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object" â€“ in human-information behavior (HIB), i.e., in information needs, seeking, evaluation, and usage. An operational definition of skepticism will be derived from a broad range of research in the social sciences, primarily in communication, psychology, marketing, media studies, and education, and will be expressed within the parlance of the cognitive viewpoint as a knowledge structure. Skepticism is established as a significant issue in the research of other social science disciplines, and it will be argued that HIB research would benefit from examining as well the role of skepticism. The many facets of skepticism will be explored and then applied to HIB with suggestions as to how the issue might be approached in future research. A skeptical attitude may initially be seen as a drawback to information behavior; after all, how may one seek and use information from the multitudes of sources that one has not yet come to trust as authorities? There may, however, be important and unexpected benefits of skepticism. Finally, it will be argued that rational skepticism is beneficial, and methods of cultivating skepticism are discussed.
… Read the original paper in its entirety (though, really, you should read the published version instead).