The current social and political context in which the trustworthiness of everything is under fire leaves “information consumers” wondering how to sort out that which is reliable and sound from that which is questionable at best and utterly false at the worst. As members of the nursing profession, we bear a particular responsibility to know what health-related information is trustworthy and that which is not and, going even further, to be able to speak with authority and credibility, based on specific information and explanations that confirm our assessment of the messages being circulated to the public at large.
Our professional education should provide us with the intellectual tools by which to make sound judgments, and our experience in practice gives further insight on which to base our opinions and conclusions. But at this time of increased scrutiny, it is prudent to reflect on the particular ways in which we can ground our confidence regarding sound and reliable information and renew our commitment to develop articulate and compelling messages for our various audiences—including people we care for, students and peers in our own profession, and the broader communities in which we live and work. I have created an acronym—REAL—as a way to review the crucial elements that are vital in sorting out that which is real and valid information from that which is flawed and false.
REAL—Resources, Evidence, Alternatives, Logical conclusions:
Resources (plural): Know, cite, and affirm the resources that are providing the information that is valid and well-founded. In the realm of scholarly journals and books that are published by reputable publishers, the processes that are used for judging that published content is sound and credible are publicly available so that you can be reasonably sure that the published content is trustworthy. But since any publication can end up with content that can be challenged, corroborate any “facts” with additional sources, be ready to summarize your own conclusions based on information from a number of reliable sources, and justify your conclusions with a sound logic.
Evidence: Empirical evidence is essential for “factual” information, but evidence can extend far beyond that which can be known empirically. Even empirical evidence requires good judgment and the wisdom to know how to interpret that evidence. Take into account the perspectives and the circumstances in which good judgment is exercised and the values that underpin the sound interpretation of that which is factually “known.”
Alternatives: Be well versed in alternative “facts” that might be circulating about a particular issue or challenge and be prepared to address and put to rest any opinions or beliefs that are patently false or even subject to question. If you are dealing with something that is in a gray zone of uncertainty, be particularly mindful that a position you might put forward may be open to question and provide guidance for your audiences related to the circumstances that might shift your position as more information is available.
Logical conclusions: Your own judgment and the basis on which you are basing your conclusions and your recommendations need to be perfectly clear. If you cannot be certain about your own recommendations or interpretations but are compelled to provide your thoughts on a particular matter while you are still uncertain (actually a common situation), be clear and concise about the dilemma at hand and explain what further information or evidence is needed to be able to make a definitive choice.
In this issue of Advances in Nursing Science (ANS), you will find a number of articles that deal with the kinds of challenges that professional nurses and other providers face in our daily practices. The authors in this issue explore the kinds of knowledge we need to understand particular health challenges, the lenses that are used in interpreting experiences involved in health and illness, and ways to shape our practices to serve the interests of health and well-being in the face of serious health-related challenges. We invite you, the readers, to participate in discussion of these articles with your colleagues and whenever possible on our ANS blog at https://ansjournalblog.com/!
—Peggy L. Chinn, PhD, RN, FAAN