Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More on the Candlestripe Post from a Boy Named Sue

This is a follow-up to a post that I previously wrote - a post that linked to a lot of material. One of the links toward the end of the post went to a item entitled "False Authority." Excerpt:

If you're reading this page, chances are you're here because something about one or all of the entries in The Repository Of Lost Legends (TROLL) section of this site struck you as a tadge suspect, if not downright wrong....

Everything in this section is a spoof. Mister Ed was no more a zebra than the origin of the nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence had anything to do with pirates on a recruiting drive. As for Mississippi's doing away with teaching fractions and decimals in its school systems because kids find them too hard to master, that's no more true than Kentucky's imposing a licensing fee on uses of its name, Edgar Rice Burroughs naming his celebrated apeman after the city he lived in (other way around, actually), George Bernard Shaw penning a poorly-attended play called Closed For Remodeling, passengers on the Titanic viewing a 1912 silent version of The Poseidon Adventure while their doomed ship was sinking out from under them, the design of California's flag being the result of "pear" being taken for "bear," or mobile homes having gained their name from the city in which they were first manufactured.

At the time I saw this page, I had only seen the Mister Ed page, which was as authoritatively sourced as any page.

As you can guess, the authors had a serious reason for populating the website with these pages (although they certainly enjoyed writing them).

This section graphically demonstrates the pitfalls of falling into the lazy habit of taking as gospel any one information outlet's unsupported word. then spends some time discussing the pitfalls of doing this - something that applies whether the source is,, Google, your best friend, your boss, your wife, or your pastor. It then makes a crucial point:

The trick is to recognize the dividing line between "reliable" and "infallible" and thus learn how to avoid throwing oneself bodily across it.

Now for a religious person such as myself, there is only one reliable source of authority - in my case, the Bible. But even then you could get an errant publisher who makes a typo, a publisher who willfully makes a change (the way that most Christians feel about the New World Translation, or the way that most Mormons feel about all translations including KJV - also see here), or someone who quotes non-existent Scripture (see this page for an example).

Which leads us to a lapsed Unitarian institution (ponder that for a moment) and what it taught me. As I've stated previously (for example, in this October post), one of the things that I learned at Reed College was an appreciation of original sources. While it's interesting to know what Jake Kuramoto thought of the death of Michael Lee Bedford, it's more important to me to find out what This Is Nottingham thought about it. Certainly Kuramoto and the others added perspective to the story, but the story originated at This Is Nottingham.

However, points out that even original sources could pose a problem. Another page notes that Reuters and UPI ran a story about a man who was injured by an exploding toilet. The source for the story? The Jerusalem Post - and a reporter who rushed a story into print without verifying it.

Of course those danged foreigners are pesky, but also cites a false story that was originally reported by the Chicago Tribune. It turns out that the reporter, Gaby Plattner, reported that something occurred to her, even though it hadn't. If you go to the Chicago Tribune's website, you can see the original article, including the Tribune's retraction.

Aside: If you look at the end of my December 5 post on corrections, you'll see that this is the second of five ways to correct mistakes. On the one hand, I can claim that my method of correction is identical to that used by the Chicago Tribune. On the other hand, I'm putting myself in bed with the "Dewey Defeats Truman" people.
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