Friday, March 8, 2013

Finding The Facts

We got a bit of snow today
Recently, I was interviewed by Ana Del C. Dye.  I was struck by how similar our upbringings were with a loss early in life, a widowed parent, and three siblings.  As a kid, my situation at home was not the norm and I don't recall ever running into anyone in my shoes, until now.  Anyhow, there is one question in that interview that I think is very important, so I'm reprinting it here.  If you're looking for a quick read, I've highlighted the important information.       

How do you distinguish between fact and non-fact? 
That’s a great question.   The ability to discern the facts is an important skill for science writers, students and for the general public as well. On some topics, like climate change, there is a lot of misinformation out there and it’s easy to be misled.

First of all, I use good sources. I’ll get information from published research papers, national and university websites, adult nonfiction books published by reputable publishers and interviews with scientists. When sources disagree about a fact, I dig deeper. It’s also prudent to look at the reliability of each source. For example, newspaper reporters work under tight deadlines, so sometimes things slip through the cracks. I’ve omitted facts that I couldn’t verify one way or the other.

If a fact doesn’t seem logical, I’ll question it even if it’s from an expert. Recently, on Facebook I noticed an Einstein quote. It didn’t seem like something he would have said, so I did some research and found no evidence it was his quote. Once I found an error in a planning and zoning map that prompted me to get in the street with my tape measure. Sure enough, a distance was incorrect. In 2005, while doing research for an article on beavers I spotted an error in Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia. At ALA, I ran into someone from the company and they were very interested. The Gale Group has since revised and updated the encyclopedia.

Another thing to be watchful of is where the facts are coming from. How qualified is the writer or speaker on the topic? If I was ill, I wouldn’t seek out a geologist for medical attention.  It’s also helpful to note if the individual has a personal connection to the topic. Sure you can get information about tobacco from cigarette companies, but are you going to get the facts?

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