The myth of government source reliability

When we teach speech students about evaluating sources, we usually tell them that government figures are more reliable than others. We teach journalism students the same thing. Maybe the operative word here is “more” and “than others.”

The greater lesson, perhaps, is to be skeptical of anything that any source tells you until you see the original data and understand how it was gathered and what it means.

As FOXNews reports in The Myth of 90 Percent, a “fact” that has been floated around by a whole bunch of government officials and passed on uncritically by a number of media outlets is just flat wrong, i.e., the “fact” that 90% of the guns used in Mexican crime comes from the United States.

It’s not just a little wrong. It’s a lot wrong. A more accurate way to look at the facts is this: about 17% of recovered weapons used in a crime in Mexico could be traced to the U.S. Continue reading “The myth of government source reliability”

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Examining an educational urban legend

I love these kinds of stories.

Students know I’m a fan of sites like snopes.com and truthorfiction.com. The average person is too willing to accept what they “hear” without doing any verification. It’s not so much that these two sites do the work for you (although, for the most part, they do), but rather that they demonstrate how to go about verifying things for yourself.

FOXNews reports on a common email that claims you can still read paragraphs consisting mainly of words with the letters scrambled, as long as the first and last letters remain unchanged. As is the case with most good urban legends, there is some truth to it. Much of what is claimed, however, is false, and many of the specific facts (such as its claim of basis in a Cambridge study) are flat-out fictitious.

The article does a very good job of explaining and documenting its counterclaims, which in itself is a good model for students.

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