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How do I read laterally?

This guide will help you learn how to read laterally, a key fact checking skill.

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Lateral Reading Example Explained

Let's take a look at how you read laterally.

In this example, you are researching renewable energy and climate change, and you come across this source from The Heartland Institue: "Research & Commentary: U.S. Transition to 100 Percent Renewa"ble Energy ‘Would Lead to Catastrophe’"

Is this a good source? Would you use it for your paper? If you read laterally, you can easily find out!

Let's see an example of how this source can be evaluated by using lateral reading. In the box below, scroll through the slides by clicking the arrows on either side. You can go forwards or backwards. 

Lateral Reading Example

The Heartland Institute article

The article's title: Research & Commentary: U.S. Transition to 100 Percent Renewable Energy ‘Would Lead to Catastrophe’

Google search results for The Heartland Institute

Step One: Google The Heartland Institute

Googling The Heartland Institute will allow you to read what others have written about the organization, that way you do not have to rely just on what they are saying about themselves. Notice the difference between The Heartland Institute's About Us page and the Wikipedia entry. Hmm, let's look further.

Wikipedia summary of the Heartland Institute

Step Two: What does Wikipedia say about the organization?

According to Wikipedia, The Heartland Institute is a conservative and libertarian public policy and think tank organization that focuses on "education reform, government spending, taxation, healthcare, tobacco policy, global warming, hydraulic fracturing, information technology, and free-market environmentalism." In the past, they have worked to discredit the risks of secondhand smoke and are climate change deniers.

Guardian article: Leak exposes how Heartland Institute works to undermine climate science

Step Three: Reading about the source

Our results also include this article from The Guardian, a daily British newspaper. It looks like, at the very least, The Heartland Institute might be biased, if not outright false in its claims. We can also tell that The Heartland Institute is financed by Charles Koch, a multimillionaire who funds conservative and libertarian organizations.

Is This a Good Article?

So, what did we find out? We found out this think tank actively discredits climate change, and in fact, they have a record of discrediting scientifically proven claims such as secondhand smoke. In under a minute, we learned that The Heartland Institute is not worth using for our paper. Would you have come up with the same conclusion by ONLY looking at The Heartland Institute's site? It's possible, but it's much more efficient to read laterally!