5 Information Cynicism

Skepticism vs. Cynicism

“While skepticism is healthy, cynicism—real cynicism—is toxic” (“Astroturfing: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”).

As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary:

  • Skeptical: Not easily convinced; having doubts or reservations
  • Cynical: Believing that people are motivated purely by self-interest; distrustful of human sincerity or integrity

When it comes to information you encounter in your personal, professional, or academic research, a skeptical approach can be productive. For example, information skeptics might take a moment to fact-check, verify, or investigate a source before using or sharing it.

However, when skepticism turns to cynicism and deep distrust, research can become unproductive. Information cynics may feel powerless to identify reliable and useful sources. That is, while learning to question everything, they have begun to believe nothing—even highly-credible sources of information.

“Without feeling empowered to sort fiction on the web, a lot of students are merely cynical and believe they can’t trust anything” (Caulfield, qtd. in Young; emphasis added).

Concept Review Exercise: Skeptical vs. Cynical


This section includes material from the source book, Introduction to College Research, as well as the following:

“Astroturfing: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” YouTube, uploaded by LastWeekTonight, 12 Aug. 2018.

Cynical.” Lexico, Oxford.

Photo by Braden Jarvis on Unsplash.

Skeptical.” Lexico, Oxford.

Young, Jeffrey R. “Can a New Approach to Information Literacy Reduce Digital Polarization?” EdSurge, 22 Mar. 2018.

Original material by book author Calantha Tillotson.


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The Insiders: Information Literacy for Okies Everywhere by Adam Brennan; Jamie Holmes; Calantha Tillotson; and Sarah Burkhead Whittle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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