Playing telephone with the truth..

One of the primary things that many years of studying/practicing academic research science taught me is always go back to the primary source- get as close to the raw data as possible. Today’s latest news blurb nonsense made it obvious that this is true in all areas of life- especially news as spread by social media.

I love getting up to the second news bits and pieces, love that social media helps me find information that would have been lost to me otherwise, but I get frustrated that the growing push to get more pieces out faster is corroding the truth of what is being spread. Here is my latest experience:

1) I receive the following Tweet from @mollywood on Twitter:
“DUDES. Obama may get rid of Daylight Savings Time!? Do it! Do it!″
2) Because I was sitting at my computer, I clicked through on the URL. It took me to a BoingBoing article with the headline “Obama might get rid of daylight saving time”. The lead off sentence reads: “President-elect Obama wants to get rid of daylight saving time in the United States to conserve energy. ” And the short BoingBoing summary has a click through link that reads: “Obama Looks to Axe Daylight Time”. Being a DST hater myself, I was intrigued. I clicked through- what would the man of hope have to say about DST?

3) That link took me to a GreenDaily article with the headline: “Obama Should Axe Daylight Time — NYT Op-Ed Explains Why“. My confusion was growing. Note the change in language between the two headlines, although the BoingBoing article was meant to summarize and highlight the GreenDaily article. This was not an Obama opinion at all, this was a scientific report in the NYT. The GreenDaily article linked through to the original NYT article. I am always looking for evidence against DST, so I clicked through.

4) I ended up on an OpEd ( that Op stands for Opinion, in case you did not know) NYT piece entitled “What’s the Point of Daylight Time?” It is actually a good read and contains references to research done recently with Indiana data- but being an Opinion piece, has no links or references to the actual data or studies. This was an article that originally went into print on Nov 20 in the paper version of the NYT. If I had read this straight from the paper, it would have driven me to the computer to look up the researchers, drive back to the original research. It is too easy to just read something that agrees with your opinion and not check the facts. Unfortunately, this trail that got me here already took too much of my lunch hour, so the real background checking will have to wait until later. You can go do it yourself and comment here on what you find, or wait a day or two for me to update here.

What does this teach us? It took very little effort to go from an opinion piece in the NYT where some researchers are discussing their research and making an open general recommendation to the new president on actions they like, to an environmental blog summarizing the NYT opinion piece and correctly reporting it as the NYT recommending this action to the President-elect to a BoingBoing article that made it sound like Obama was actually taking action. As we speak, the internet is blossoming with articles saying “Obama looks to axe DST”, “Obama wants to get rid of DST”, etc..- all of them linking back to the BoingBoing article. And yet, in NO part of the sources of these articles did any information come from the Obama camp.

I am a proponent of distributed news and social bookmarking. For this to work, we need to keep the flow of information “clean”, rather than a news headline version of telephone that results in a distributed flood of articles with as much veracity as the National Enquirer. Try the following to help keep the information flowing:

1) If you are passing on a news article or “fact”, take an extra 3 minutes and click through to the source.
2)Reference the original news source, in addition to the “pass through” intermediary.
3) Don’t just recap the headline of the intermediary you read,read the original and re-summarize if you think the intermediary got it wrong; or link the to intermediary and give some value add as to why this is good or bad news.

3 thoughts on “Playing telephone with the truth..

  1. Now that the anti-science, superstition-based initiative presidency ends, we need several public works science Manhattan projects to make us great again and boost us out of this Grotesque Depression. First we must provide free advertising-based wireless internet to everyone. Then we must criscross the land with high speed rail. Because bovine flatulence is the major source of greenhouse gases, we must develop home growable microbes to provide all of our protein. Then we must create microbes which turn our sewage and waste into fuel right at home. Since paranoid schizophrenia is the cause of racism, bigotry, homelessness, terrorism, ignorance, exploitation and criminality, we must provide put the appropriate medications, like lithium, in the water supply and require dangerous wingnuts who refuse free mental health care to be implanted with drug release devices. Osama bin Laden and Timothy McVeigh were the ultimate superstition based initiatives. In order to fund this we must nationalize the entire financial, electrical and transportation system and extinguish the silly feudal notion that each industry should be regulated by its peers. Technology mandates a transformation from feudal forecloseable debt to risk sharing equity. Real estate and insurance, the engines of feudalism, must be brought under the Federal Reserve so we may replace all buildings with hazardous materials to provide public works. Insects, flooding and fire spread asbestos, lead and mold which prematurely disables the disadvantaged. Disposable manufactured housing assures children are not prematurely disabled and disadvantaged. Because feudalism is the threat to progress everywhere, we must abolish large land holdings by farmers, foresters or religions and instead make all such large landholding part of the forest service so our trees may diminish greenhouse gases. We must abolish executive pay and make sure all employees in a company are all paid equally. We must abolish this exploitative idea of trade and make every home self sufficient through the microbes we invent.

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