Thursday, April 20, 2017

Is It Really True? Fake News and Other Misinformation


With all the bluster about "fake news" lately, here's a post from seven years past that addresses the same issue. The lingo may change but the issues remain the same. In fact, the situation may be worse, as we're pretty much lacking in fact-checkers. 

Is It Really True? 
(October 2010)

Did you know that October this year has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays, and that this happens only once every 823 years?

That was something I saw Tweeted a few minutes ago, but I really do not have any way to verify it. Seems hard to believe. What do you think?

That's the way a lot of stuff is online. You read it, and it is stated so factually that your brain just nods its assent and you absorb it into your knowledge base. But how much of that knowledge base is misinformation that you just swallowed uncritically?

Misinformation didn't just begin with the Internet though. P.T. Barnum famously quipped, "A sucker is born every minute." Even before the online age, credible sources would be getting it wrong. For example, in 1949, Popular Mechanics asserted that "computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons." The wording implies a fairly large measure of doubt, but we'll go out on a limb and weigh the possibility of it, even if unlikely.

The New York Times once warned that the electric light would cause blindness. How could it not be true? It was in the New York Times! Well, journalists make mistakes just like everyone else. Unfortunately, when it's in print it remains in print a long, long time. Whereas when it's on a blog or website, hey guess what? I can delete it or fix it in a minute.

That's a scary thought, too, though. If everything is transitory, if everything can be re-arranged, what's left that's firm and solid?

Better stop my rambling and get on with the day. Y'all have a good one.

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For What It's Worth Dept.

Duluth's 27th annual Art For Earth Day Gallery Hop is this weekend. The DNT has assembled a nice summary of places to go and what you can expect to find.

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