The Obligation To Know Something About What You Are Writing About

Believe it or not, this isn't the most ridiculous feature of the Slate essay it comes from.

Believe it or not, this isn’t the most ridiculous feature of the Slate essay it comes from.

I am constantly being reminded of an old Bob and Ray skit (no, I can’t find it online) they did on late night TV where Bob played an interviewer of a longshoreman (Ray) who had just published a thousand page history of the U.S. that was riddled with errors. “Here, for example,” the increasingly perplexed interviewer sputtered, “you say that Abraham Lincoln was born in 1943 in Bailey’s Mistake, Maine!” Because the internet permits anyone to publish authoritative-sounding nonsense and lies without penalty, that skit seems less and less absurd with each passing day.

Even the content of supposedly legitimate, respected on-line sources cannot be relied upon , because 1) the job of “editor” appears to be obsolete, and 2) if there is an editor, he may be an ignoramus too. For example, a day after after the World Health Organization released a stunning report announcing that citizens of Greece were intentionally giving themselves AIDS so they could get health benefits, it retracted the statement, saying, through  a spokesman, “There is no evidence of people in Greece or anywhere else in Europe deliberately infecting themselves.” What happened? It was an editing error. Oh, well then… wait, what? And nobody other than the editor read the ridiculous release before falsely accusing an entire country of breeding idiots?

This brings us to this “correction” that appeared yesterday on Slate….you know, that sophisticated, erudite, eclectic online cultural  commentary magazine:

“Correction, Dec. 10, 2013: This article originally misidentified penguins as mammals. They are birds.”

As in, “Correction: This article originally stated that Abe Lincoln was born in Bailey’s Mistake, Maine….

How could this happen? Easy..

1. The author, Aisha Harris, wrote a (supposedly humorous) article about penguins, yet never performed the most basic due diligence of checking the basic facts about penguins. She knew, it seems, that they live in cold environments and are black and white, and that’s about it. Lazy, incompetent and irresponsible.

2. Nobody at Slate read it before putting this thing (it is neither funny nor clever) up on the site.( I refuse to believe that more than one individual in any 100 mile radius thinks that penguins are mammals.) Unprofessional, incompetent, irresponsible, lazy, and a breach of trust.

If those who regard their profession as the dissemination of information do not accept the attendant obligation to make sure that the information they convey is accurate, then civilization is doomed.

Civilization is doomed.


Pointer: Fark

Facts and Graphic: Slate

17 thoughts on “The Obligation To Know Something About What You Are Writing About

  1. The problem is that people think that everyone is entitled to an opinion. They are not. They are , as the writer Harlan Ellison said, entitled to an informed opinion. If not informed they should be quiet.

    • You have identified the conversation bomb that makes me the most homicidal of all. In an actual, fact-based disagreement, I can PROVE I am right, only to be faced with “well, I am entitled to my opinion.” Oh, tell me more about how vaccines haven’t been proven safe because of your opinion…

      • Agreed, too many adults who are working and raising children cannot separate even raw facts from opinions. As if saying gravity is an opinion means they can deny it. Maybe they will float away and make the grocery line shorter.

      • Add the phrase — “agree to disagree” — to the list.

        “We’re gonna have to agree to disagree” translates to me as “your serene logic is irrefutable. I cannot assail a single premise or conclusion you have made. All of my arguments have been trampled to the ground and shown utterly fallacious. I have not one leg to stand on and have been shown a fool. But I refuse to change my mind.”

        • Once, in a fit of pique, I responded to “Let’s agree to disagree” with “No, thank you, I don’t agree to disagree.” I didnt’ convince them, I looked like a jerk, but it made me feel good… and as a bonus, I seldom had to listen to them any more.

        • Can’t the “agree to disagree” status statement also serve as a simple, civil concession by one party in a two-party dispute that there is, or has been, no discernible movement at all by either party from initial positions taken? I have always assumed that when someone said, “We just agree to disagree,” it’s a kind of cease-fire or suspension of hope for prompt resolution, with recognition that an issue has not been settled today – and between the contending parties, the issue might never be settled.

        • Hate the phrase, and most of the time it is used here, I reject it. “We’re at an impasse”—Ok.And if your position is respectable, has legitimacy, and can be defended without resorting to lies, bias and rationalizations, fine. Believe it or not, there are many opinions I disagree with but respect, and even accept the possibility that they may be right.

          But usually “agree to disagree” means “I can’t hold my own in this debate and am losing badly, so I’m declaring a draw.”


          • It sometimes means, “I can’t get this creep to stay on topic or debate with any reason or honesty… so what am I wasting my time about? He’s just going to duck and weave forever. If anyone watching is dumb enough to swallow his garbage, let ’em!”.

      • In an actual, fact-based disagreement, I can PROVE I am right, only to be faced with “well, I am entitled to my opinion.” Oh, tell me more about how vaccines haven’t been proven safe because of your opinion…
        Oh, yes.
        That one makes me see red, also.
        George Carlin said,”think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.”

  2. This has come about because of the feel good “self-image” curriculum that was taught in the late 80’s early 90’s. Kids were taught to express themselves by stating their feelings. The idea was that people can’t disagree with your “feelings” because they are real and so you can feel good about that. It was supposed to be a way to handle peer pressure and say no to drugs. It became a blanket cop out for every thing a person wants to believe in the face of proof. Proving a person’s ideas wrong was an no-no. Their feelings were all that mattered. They were wrong, but by hell they felt good about themselves.

    • Granny, they’re still doing it. My grandson has a thing at his school called “Field Day”, where multiple track and field events are held for any and all willing participants in his elementary school. He says every body gets a “participation ribbon”, but that actual winners get nothing…no Blue Ribbon, no Red for second place, nothing, nada, zip, zero. I have some hope for this country, because he asked me why he should expend all the effort to win if there was no reward.

  3. How much of this phenomenon is new?

    It may have gotten worse, but a generation ago it was commonplace for people who’d been in newsworthy situations to say that the resulting newspaper articles bore little relation to what happened.

    A book from before 1980 told people that the treatment for frostbite was to rub the injured area with snow.

    Your main point was the amount of damage done, and on that point you’re clearly right.

  4. “…you know, that sophisticated, erudite, eclectic online cultural commentary magazine.”

    I don’t know any such magazine by the name of Salon.

    I know a Salon that features such articles as “How to Post the Perfect Naked Selfie.” Did you mean that Salon?

  5. Years ago, a friend insisted that a hippopotamus was a bird. His evidence was a comic book published by some reputable source–the Audubon Society or some such–that had a picture of some herons, ibises, storks, etc. and a cutline about how birds gather at African watering holes. There was a hippo in the background, presumably to give a little authenticity to the picture. But since the description said nothing about mammals, the obvious inference (to my friend) was that hippos are birds.

    There’s one difference between that incident and the Slate article, however, other than one called a mammal and bird and the other called a bird a mammal. My friend was eight at the time.

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