5. Dec. 2016

posted Dec 1, 2016, 6:17 PM by Frank Steele   [ updated Dec 27, 2016, 5:39 PM ]

December 1, 2016

Searching for related or parallel terms
In one of his latest posts at Search ReSearch, Daniel Russell talks about visiting the Greek island of Delos and seeing the name “M.C. Perry” carved into a stone at a temple there--seemingly very old graffiti. He wondered if this might be the famous Commodore Matthew Perry who forced Japan to open itself to trade in the 1850s after two hundred years of isolation. What follows is a very interesting research project: finding the ship that Perry was on, checking to see if it stopped at Delos, hitting a few dead ends, and finally researching the captain of that ship instead to discover that Perry almost certainly did visit that temple and carve his initials in the rock. It’s an interesting detective story in itself, but it also brings out the point that “Sometimes the shortest path to your goal is to find someone (or something) that must also be closely related to what you're searching.”

Links from a Toddington International newsletter
These might be helpful. I checked out the first one (public records search) to verify that it is indeed free. The others I’m posting here so that I’ll have a record of them to check out later:

blackbookonline.info - Free US-based public records search site

startpage.com - Private, Google-powered search engine that does not track users

refdesk.com - Search references, facts, and news
Refdesk is a great site. I hadn’t been there in a while, and I’d forgotten how many good features it has.

December 7, 2016

The Chicago Guide to Fact-Checking
I ordered the new Chicago Guide to Fact-Checking (by Brooke Borel) a few weeks ago, and recently had time to finish reading it. I liked it. It’s a good, well-written, comprehensive book that covers every angle of editorial fact-checking. Like most books of its type, it’s mainly aimed at the fact-checker employed at a newspaper, magazine, or other media outlet, but it’s still useful to the independent fact-checker and to those who simply want to check their own work. There are chapters on why we fact-check, what we fact-check, how we fact-check, checking different types of facts, sourcing, record keeping, and testing your skills, as well as a small but up-to-date list of resources in the back. So if you’re into fact-checking, whether personally or professionally, you might find the book useful.

Reading over your work again
I’m in the third month of fact-checking a nonfiction book (the author is still writing it, but I go over chapters as they’re finished), and when I was going over a chapter again before returning it, I was reminded of an important lesson: Be sure to double-check your work. As I reread the text I’d checked, I found a few places where I hadn’t fully checked things and others where I’d misunderstood the question. And in a few places where I hadn’t been able to confirm a fact (I checked more than 420 items in the chapter), I was able to verify it; the answer was clearer since there’d been some time since I’d last gone over it, giving my subconscious more time to work on it. It pays to read over your work again. (I didn’t charge the client for this. Taking this extra time was worth it to me to make sure I got it right.)

False news and media bias
Recently there’s been quite a bit of news and commentary about fake news and the impact it might have had on the election. I’m pretty careful about the news I read and I didn’t really see much fake news this election cycle, but I did see an awful lot of biased news. In other words, one candidate or the other was either an angel or a devil, the second coming or the spawn of Satan, with very few (if any) bad or good points. I don’t recall noticing that so much in past presidential elections. Maybe doing fact-checking helps to sharpen what you might call your BS detector, and when you come upon an article or a post that’s full of unverifiable assertions or one that’s so unbalanced that the person being discussed has either no virtues or no flaws, it sets off an alarm. In any case, almost all the news I read seemed to be biased in one way or another, and I think that had much more of an impact on the election than fake news.


December 8, 2016

The Pocket Guide to Bulls--t Prevention
This is an older article (2014), but it has a nice 5-point set of principles in the beginning that’s simple and elegant (though they could have made the point without the obscenities):

1. Who is telling me this?
2. How does he or she know this?
3. Given #1 and #2, is it possible that he or she is wrong?
4. If the answer to #3 is yes, find another, unrelated source.
5. Repeat until the answer to #3 is “pretty f---ing unlikely.”

There’s also an example provided to illustrate the process.

“If a story is viral, truth may be taking a beating”
This New York Times article talks about how some publishers aren’t all that upset if viral content turns out to be fake. “If you throw something up without fact-checking it, and you’re the first one to put it up, and you get millions and millions of views, and later it’s proved false, you still got those views.”

It is unclear how much readers care whether a fascinating story is true or not, at least in terms of clicking on it. Melanie C. Green, a social psychologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, said that while people told her they cared deeply, their emotional responses remain the same either way. “It’s the same as movies or books,” she said. “We want to see something new, maybe escape our lives.”


December 12, 2016

Save time with Digle?

ResearchBuzz mentions this new search resource in its newsletter today:

From The Next Web: ‘Digle’ wants to gamify search for uber-specific queries. “UK startup ‘Digle’ wants to change the way we search for hyper-specific queries. Rather than digging in and sorting through pages of un-optimized sites, Digle gives you the option to hand the task off to someone else. These ‘Finders’ are then tasked with the grunt work in exchange for badges, higher positions on the leaderboard, and credits — which are redeemable for cash.”

If you have a simple search, using Google would be quicker, of course. But if you’re searching for a specific but obscure fact, Digle might be just the thing.

December 18, 2016

The Necessity of Credibility

I thought this article from Current Affairs was a good one, as it covered some fact-checking failures by the Washington Post as well as a shortcoming that any fact-checker can fall into: letting bias, opinion and personal interpretation affect your fact-checking. And it ties into media credibility and the “fake news” phenomenon that’s getting so much airtime these days:

By conjuring phony statistics (like “percentage of false statements”) and treating highly subjective and interpretive judgments as if they are Just The Facts, the press steadily erodes [its] credibility. … If “fact-checks” are not really fact-checks, but are centrist opinion pieces, the word “fact” comes to connote “the highly contentious views of people who call themselves fact-checkers” rather than anything about reality or the world as it actually exists. … Concerns about fake news are justified. But instead of begging our Silicon Valley overlords to crack down on the free sharing of information, we might start by building a mainstream press that has credibility of its own.

It made me take stock of my own possible bias when it comes to fact-checking. The article is long, but well-written, interesting, and worth the read.

December 27, 2016

Tracking foreign influence peddling in America: Tip sheet

Journalist’s Resource posted a tip sheet on how to keep track of foreign influence peddling with a variety of good links:

Every year, foreign governments and other overseas entities spend about half a billion dollars trying to influence American policy, according to the Project on Government Oversight. The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) enables researchers to track their spending and sway. under FARA, which is run by the U.S. Department of Justice, lobbyists and other organizations are required to regularly declare their relationships with foreign principals, their meetings, payments, as well as the informational materials they use to influence policy makers, such as presentations, email correspondence, even draft legislation. Much of the documentation is available on the FARA website.

Journalist’s Resource has a good regular newsletter with more tip sheets.