To Err is Human, To Fact-Check is Divine

The Seed: It is important to avoid perpetuating misinformation.

The Sprout: We live in a particularly divisive political moment. It’s a good time to remember that we don’t always need to respond to current events as they happen. It’s OK to let some events unfold, reserving judgment, waiting until more solid facts/evidence are available. While there is quite a bit of pressure to “choose sides,” resisting the urge to immediately form a firm opinion is not a terrible idea.

The Forest

Our world has changed over the past few decades. The way news is delivered has certainly changed. We now receive moment to moment updates. During a newsworthy event in earlier decades, a “breaking news” story might have briefly interrupted your episode of Cheers. We can now read tweets from people in dire situations, giving their version of events as they happen, while reporters on a 24 hour news cycle are pressed to make pronouncements without accurate facts based on evidence.

My intention in this blog is to examine narratives, both personal and communal. Sometimes, this will entail taking a more nuanced look at a current event and/or ongoing social issue. Before I get into that, I wanted to write about the importance of accuracy and evidence when making an argument.

If I learned anything in my doctoral program, it’s this: check the facts. Check them again. Cross check them. Look at the evidence. Seek out opposing arguments/facts/evidence. Look deep into the footnotes. Question even seemingly mundane statements. Ask the golden question—who benefits?

I often read/hear arguments that rely on obvious factual errors. Many of these erroneous arguments could have been rectified with just a moment of verification. The tendency to argue without foundation is compounded by misreading, failing to read beyond headlines, and taking initial statements at face value.

One example of this occurred recently on Twitter when a food writer uploaded a photo of herself drying a chicken with an expensive hair dryer. When you clicked through to read her article, she explained that a traditional method of getting the crispiest skin on roast chicken was to air dry the bird. This can take a long time. For example, Peking Duck is air dried for about a day. Innovative chefs have been experimenting with different techniques. One of these methods proposes the use of a hair dryer.

The tweet picked up traction and was featured on Twitter’s front page as a Twitter “moment.” From there, the tweet went viral and the author began to tweet about the numerous people who responded negatively to her tweet without having read the article. Think-pieces were written in response to her tweet and the corresponding article. In the end, it seemed that people had a visceral response to the image she posted and responded without reading the accompanying article.

The problem with our current state of discourse is that it’s difficult having a conversation in any medium—online, face to face, through email, etc.—with people who don’t share your exact perspective. I hope to provide a more nuanced take on current events related to my area of expertise in future blog posts.

look deeper

 

Resources

A food writer shared a neat cooking tip, but got a flood of hate and mockery in return.

Even in the Kitchen, Women Can’t Win

Hair-Dryer-Roasted Chicken Wins the 2018 Award for the Whitest Thing on the Internet

Healy, Kieran. (2017). Fuck Nuance. Sociological Theory, 35(2) 118–127. http://kieranhealy.org/files/papers/fuck-nuance.pdf

How a tweet about a chicken and a hair dryer got its own news cycle—The Verge

Liberals are terrible at arguing with conservatives. Here’s how they can get better.

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