Fact-checking, and another “Who Said That?”

One of my previous job titles is “fact-checker.” Yes, I checked facts. Instead of doing my own writing, I read what other people had written, checked their sources, consulted other sources, corrected wrong information, and made sure the company would publish something that was accurate and reliable. The writers were paid five cents a word. I was paid an hourly rate. I probably earned more checking facts than the writers earned for their work.

When I was in college, one of the assigned texts that every student read was a small book, How To Lie With Statistics. I checked amazon this morning and saw that the book is still available. Its only fault is that the examples all date from the 1950s. Aside from that, the book is wonderfully readable and extremely helpful. The title is, of course, a joke. The book does not teach the reader how to lie with statistics; it shows how other people lie with statistics and teaches the reader how to evaluate the data that others use to prove their points.

For example: on another blog last week a commenter asserted that 91 percent of scientists are atheists and 97 of biologists are atheists. I refrained from commenting (not wanting to enter the conversation), but I had many significant questions to ask. Who conducted the survey? How did they choose their respondents? How did they define atheism? The numbers quoted are so incredible (meaning unbelievable) that the survey is almost certainly skewed.

Perhaps they surveyed science professors in secular European colleges and universities. Perhaps the survey was conducted through a periodical whose readers are mostly secular scientists. Perhaps the survey was mailed in a package that Christians and Jews and Muslims would be likely to disregard. For that matter, perhaps the survey was designed to lump agnostics and deists into the category of atheists. If they intended from the start to demonstrate that most scientists do not believe in God, they had several ways to achieve that goal, and more than likely they used all of them.

A fact-checker like me easily becomes a curmudgeon (and when I place a post in the category “curmudgeon,” you can be sure I am not taking myself very seriously). Inaccurate information rankles me. A few years ago I was part of a trivia contest conducted as a fundraiser for a Christian camp. One of the first questions was, “Who wrote the poem that begins, ‘I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree’?” The correct answer is Joyce Kilmer, but the judges of the contest insisted that the author was James Joyce. I shrugged off the mistake and continued in the competition that evening, but I have not returned to the annual event since that year. (This paragraph actually belongs in Saturday’s post, but it slipped my mind then as I was writing.)

Some of my crabbiness probably stems from being done with winter and ready for spring. Some comes from stress helping my daughter deal with a broken phone, a broken car, difficulty at her workplace, and the last semester of college. Some stems from hope and uncertainty about my own future. I appreciate the patience and support of all of you. J.


16 thoughts on “Fact-checking, and another “Who Said That?”

  1. I don’t see it as curmudgeonly—it’s wanting accuracy. I cannot tell you how upsetting it has been to discover (as an adult) how many false teachings I was given as a school kid about history, health and even science. I do a lot of reading (even reading opposite sides) because I want the truth. Hang in there! May the Lord strengthen you for the future.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Reading opposite sides is very important. Often it turns out that there are more than two sides. False teachings are common, often because people try to make difficult matters easier to understand. Thank you for your encouragement. J.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. One of the things I use to post on my blog was the results of my fact-checking of those chain emails people use to pass around, the ones that fool us by telling us what we want to believe. That is, the writers amuse themselves by taking advantage of our confirmation bias. I suppose people still send such emails, but I don’t get them anymore. Use to reply and explain the factual errors. So people stop forwarding to me.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. LOL! Three cheers for curmudgeons!

    I used to be an internet fact checker, often playing linky wars, believing if I just pointed people to the truth, the actual study, the “true” statistics, the genuine facts, they would change their thinking. Like,oh, I’m believing in something that isn’t true. Let me fix that! LOL, nope, very naive of me. I forgot about confirmation bias and human nature. I did however, develop some good research skills.

    In faith I’ve learned to toss aside all statistics. God doesn’t really care what the other humans are doing, what the odds are, what the statistics say. Marriage is a good example, rumor, statistics, and gossip suggest half of all marriages end in divorce, so we got about a 50-50 chance. But no, that’s not how it works. Even if you only had a two percent chance, God asks us to place ourselves in that two percent. God is forever defying the odds, throwing out what we think we know, calling us to Himself.

    A while back I read an article that said there were two million scientists in the US who publicly identified as evangelicals. From my own encounters with scientists they’re either Christians or they are questioning agnostics. Atheism is actually more rare, in part because it is kind of incompatible with science. It claims to have knowledge, evidence, of what cannot be scientifically demonstrated.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, that confirmation bias is a real problem.
      And I’m with you on the marriage statistic. I think there was a period, somewhere in the seventies or eighties, when that was true, and the reason was that divorce was being seen as more socially acceptable, so a lot of marriages were ending that had been unhappy for a long time. (Not that I(‘m advocating divorce; just describing a situation.) But for all the celebrities who have had five short and unhappy marriages, there must be at least five solid marriages in balance. J.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Very interesting, J. We are similar in the fact-checking arena although from two different perspectives. I owned a business that for 15 years provided data entry and data tabulation for other businesses. You might find this post a little more along your occupation.

    But I think I find it interesting you being pro-Trump that he is the poorest source for factual information imaginable. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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