Mythbusters, factcheck.org, and Snopes have become sources of a special kind of truth for people around the world. Dedicated to undoing legend and independently analyzing political or other rhetoric, these and other sites, as well as various news segments and print media spots, are to be commended for their efforts to turn down the BS meter, which all agree has been running on high ever since the old days, when there was no BS at all.
(Which, of course, is an urban myth.)
However, what you may not know is that these sites are not necessarily politically neutral, can be quite biased (in non-political ways) about certain issues, and can be annoyingly FOS all on their own.
Snopes is especially annoying to me for two reasons. First, they seem to be politically biased in ways that are a bit subtle …. this is mainly a gut feeling for me, and don’t even ask me to document it. I just think it is true, and don’t care to prove it to you. The second reason is much easier to document and is very clearly true. Snopes has a particular credulity bias. While Snopes seems to try to prove or disprove, using valid evidence, the claims that they address, it is often the case that proof positive is unavailable. In these cases, Snopes often decides if something is likely true or likely untrue using an implicit credulity test. Unfortunately, this credulity test is culturally biased and often misinformed.
In once instance, Snopes made an absolutely firm claim about a ‘belief’ said to be held by people of certain areas of Africa. Snopes decided that it did not believe that anyone could possibly believe this belief, and declared it to be untrue. But they were dead wrong. The belief in question absolutely is held by a number of people, and this can be documented and understood in the local cultural context as a reasonable (if also untrue) belief. However, Snopes saw belief in this belief as racist or patronizing. I appreciate Snopes’ concern about racism and the pervasive Western sense of superiority over other cultures. However, if this belief is examined in the real cultural and historical context in which it is found, there is not an issue of race or cultural bias to be concerned with. If anything, the situation is quite the opposite.
I sent Snopes a clearly stated correction with the proper contextual framework so that any westerner could come to an understanding of what is going on. My comments went unacknowledged, though the web page has been updated to exclude specific aspects of the discussion … in other words, Snopes changed the description of the ‘legend” in such a way that their debunking of it was less inaccurate. (But it is still wrong.)
Our local news station has a guy that comes out and tells us the truth about a current news story. It seems to me that he is expected to come up with such a story (always about politics) a certain number of times a week. Therefore, he sometimes has to make up what is wrong or overstate the ‘truth’ in order to meet his obligation. That the production … the medium … takes over the message is utterly obvious in this case. He needs to stop doing this.
I’ve never watched Myth Busters so I have no comment on that. But given the overall pattern I would not be surprised if some of the myths are not busted in a purely objective factual way.
The most recent high profile destroyer of belief is Factcheck.org, which has been doing a pretty good job of monitoring the debates, various ads, and so on in the current US presidential election. But even this new fangled, reasonably well done effort can become entangled with unreality now and the. Here are a few examples:
McCain repeated his overstated claim that the U.S. pays $700 billion a year for oil to hostile nations. Imports are running at about $536 billion this year, and a third of it comes from Canada, Mexico and the U.K.
Palin said, “We’re circulating about $700 billion a year into foreign countries” for imported oil, repeating an outdated figure often used by McCain. At oil prices current as of Sept. 30, imports are running at a rate of about $493 billion per year.
What is true? These numbers are all topsy turvy.
Here, Factcheck.org asks us to buy into comparing apples and oranges:
Obama said 95 percent of “the American people” would see a tax cut under his proposal. The actual figure is 81 percent of households.
At one point on the factcheck.org website, it says:
The candidates were not 100 percent accurate. To say the least.
That second phrase is not a sentence, yet it starts with an upper case letter and ends in period. WTF, Factcheck.org?
In a discussion of who is to blame for the current economic crisis, Factcheck.org says:
The U.S. economy is enormously complicated. Screwing it up takes a great deal of cooperation. Claiming that a single piece of legislation was responsible for (or could have averted) the crisis is just political grandstanding.
That is absurd. No one wanted to screw up the economy. There was no cooperation. This is a serious misstatement.
Now, I know a couple of these checks-on-factcheck are tongue in cheek, but they are meant to illustrate the illusory nature of reality. The statement that “it takes a great deal of cooperation” to screw up the economy is in the same family as statements like “the truth is somewhere in the middle” or “there is always a kernel of truth behind any myth.” These two bits of inanity are the root of plenty of myths or mis beliefs.
Factcheck.org should be more careful.
Finally, I have the impression that Factcheck.org does try to post, on each of their web pages concerning the two tickets, a roughly equal number of items per candidate, even though we know the Republicans are lying constantly and the Democrats are trying their best to tell the truth. Am I right?