Monthly Archives: June 2013

[Citation Needed] — the intelligent heckler

The xkcd comics can be funny normally, but this strikes me as particularly humorous because of other things I’ve seen recently.   In particular, the You-Tube contributor potholer54 is a former science journalist who not only gives his comments on various bunk but explains why you don’t have to take his word for it and how to spot possible bunk through journalistic techniques.  In particular, follow up on the sources.  See if the proponent is just repeating (and further distorting) a mis-reported story, and find the original that started it.

In this Internet age, it is easier than ever.  Just click on the link, or use Google.  Long before I saw these techniques spelled out, I recall reading something that seemed fishy.  In a minute or two I figured out that all reports were just repeating the company’s own white paper (and each other).

In order for “news” outlets to return to some standard of accuracy and integrity, their readers need to care.  There might be resources like Snopes that people can easily check, and you can well imagine browser extensions that automatically indicate the credibility of an article.  But that would mean more people would care, and that should push back on the providers.

So really, if someone is telling you something (or posting, or publishing), you shouldn’t need to necessarily believe him.  Is he just making things up?  Did he get the facts wrong?  Is he deliberately distorting the picture?  For important issues like climate change and GMO foods, you can and should find out for yourself who to trust on the subject.