Friday, August 12, 2005

Where Do We Go for "Facts"?

One of the challenges of our Instant Information Age is discerning the sources of relatively unbiased information. In my last blog I spoke of the "edutainment" problem and the ideological twist that seem to pervade so many sources. Even traditionally objective sources (New York Times or even National Geographic) can be fraught with bias.

Lest this appear to be another conservative rant against the "mainstream media", I hasten to add that the conservative movement is in a real crisis itself. The crisis is not necessarity one of basic values, but of facing the harsh facts about its icons and views of events and developing a more critical approach to substantiating its bold assertions.

OK, back to sources. Where do we go? My answer is everywhere - with a critical eye! The NYT remains an important source...but watch out for the loaded terms that can permeate any factual article. WorldNet Daily on the Rght and Truth Out on the Left both offer information that can help round out one's perspective. As we peruse sources, Let's ask these questions:

  • Who is doing the polling and what kinds of methods and samples are used?
  • Watch out for "wide-ranging" statistics; i.e., "It is estimated that between 2,000 and 20,000 have experienced..." what does this actually mean?
  • Take note of words like, "alleged' and "unconfirmed" and "off the record". This does not mean the facts are wrong, just tentative.
  • It is possible for two facts to be both right yet incompatible with different ideologies. For example, the 1980s Reaganomics were a boon for some and a total bust for many others, leaving a legacy of debt that has serious consequences. The Left blames the greedy Republicans; the Right the spendthrift Congress. The truth? A plague on both your houses! Until the pork is reigned in, the greed confronted, and social infrastructure honestly examined, we will stay in the wilderness of rhetoric.
  • As we look at sources, we can discover the values behind the citations and assertions. For example, the book Freakonomics assets that Roe v. Wade may have had a salutary effect upon certain rates of crime because of a declining birthrate among the poor. For me, an ardent pro-life advocate, such a fact is not going to change my mind on abortion, but it will challenge me to find better ways to confront poverty and unwanted pregnancies.

These are a few first steps toward real research in todays insight-starved world.

We must be unafraid to face reality even while affirming our enduring values. My sadness with the hypocricy of so many conservative icons does not force me to abandon good ideas - it challenges me toward greater integrity personally.

In my next blog, I will confrom the issue of what the Left and Right mean by "freedom" and how we can move toward a principled, non-coercive future.

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