Fact-checking, Skepticism, and Keeping Ahead of Computers

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June 3, 2015 by libroshombre

The origin of the word “debunking” came up in this space recently, and today I’m interested in debunking a myth about one of the best debunkers around, Snopes.com. Snopes is described by Wikipedia as “a website covering urban legends, Internet rumors, e-mail forwards, and other stories of unknown or questionable origin. It is a well-known resource for validating and debunking such stories in American popular culture, receiving 300,000 visits a day.” Occasionally an email myth circulates calling the husband-wife team who operate Snopes liberal Democrats. The owner, David Mikkelson, was a Republican, but hasn’t had any affiliations for many years. Barbara, his wife, is Canadian and can’t vote. “My sole involvement in politics is on Election Day to go out and vote,” Micklesson said. “You’d be hard-pressed to find two more apolitical people.”

Factcheck.org, a project of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communications, wrote that “We reviewed a sampling of their political offerings, including some on rumors about George W. BushSarah Palin and Barack Obama, and we found them to be utterly poker-faced.” They add that the erroneous email’s “last paragraph advises that everyone who goes to Snopes.com for ‘the bottom line facts’ should ‘proceed with caution.’ We think that’s terrific advice, not just in connection with material on Snopes but for practically anything a reader finds online — including articles on FactCheck.org. The very reason we list our sources (as does Snopes.com) and provide links is so that readers can check things out for themselves.”

It’s good to be skeptical, especially when someone’s M.D. or doctorate degree is from the Open International University of Sri Lanka, or OIUSL. The Open University of Sri Lanka, OUSL, is a legitimate institution. To qualify for entry at OIUSL, applicants must have passed one graduate-level class on any subject, and to graduate submit 300-pages written by anybody on anything. Then the “students” stipulate their grade point average and receive their degree in the mail in a few weeks. After learning that Dr. Nick Begich, brother of former Senator Mark, got his degree from the nefarious OIUSL, I was tempted to pursue my alternative medicine doctoral degree in applied graphicbibliotherapy, so I could prescribe certain comic books to help people feel better. Despite my obvious aptitude in this line of healing, the $700 price outweighed the gratification.

Naturally, an OIUSL degree’s completely worthless, but so’s my legal status as commissioned Admiral in the Texas Navy. Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe, in one of the more reasoned periods of his administration, signed my commission in the late 1970s. My boss, Representative “Smiling” Dave Allred, was submitting several names to the governor for the admiralty honorific. I’d just completed Mr. Allred’s collection of C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower historical novels, and he figured I had more knowledge about sea life than anyone else on his list, and added my name.

The Legislature became my employer when I became disillusioned with the prevailing trends in social sciences and dropped out of grad school in comparative international relations with the only 4.0 grade point average in my academic career. Students were strongly encouraged to devise models that predicted whatever outcome was desired. Careers were built upon defining sets of academic terms. Research became ever more introspective instead of inclusive.

“Learning That Stays a Step Ahead of Computers,” recent NYTimes article by Robert Schiller, cited studies that found that occupations least likely to be coopted by computers in the future are those that “shared certain characteristics: people who practiced them needed complex communication skills and expert knowledge … a college education needs to be broad and general.”

Active readers usually comprehend and communicate better and more efficiently, and our public library, the intellectually-leveling “People’s University,” allows anyone to pursue a broad education on any subject. Then you can establish your own self-accredited degree mill and award yourself an honorary PhD. After spreading my calling card, which includes the phrase, “rogue librarian,” liberally across France the last two weeks, I learned that “library” means “bookstore” in French and “rogue” means “without scruples.” My new card will add “rogue librarian/bibliothecaire sauvage,” and perhaps a degree or two in graphicbibliotherapy from the University of Ester, established May 2015 in my garage.

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