to be less gullible

5 01 2009

83454811That is my New Year’s resolution: to stop believing everything I read, to question authority more often, to consider the source, to check more than one source for verification, etc.

As a librarian, you’d think I’d already do a pretty good job at this, wouldn’t you?  Oh, but no.  Someone once told me that Jimmy Carter was the only U.S. President to not be a Freemason and I believed it (perhaps my love for Mr. Carter clouded my discernment?).  For the record, this is at best impossible to verify due t0 the secrecy of Freemasonry.  At worst, it’s totally wrong.

Yes, I am probably less gullible than your average person.  But I want to stop reading something and automatically assuming it’s the truth.  How can I add an extra step to this process?  How can I get my brain to slow down for a second and mull it over?  Does the immediacy of the interwebs agitate this problem?

Want proof that you have this problem too (because I’m SURE you do)?  It’s simple.  Read an article from a reputable source on a topic about something you really truly know almost everything about.  It could be someone you personally know quite well, a topic that speaks intimately to your profession, an attribute of your lifestyle.  Anything like that.  And then listen to yourself gasp as you read error after error, half-truth after half-truth, incorrect term after incorrect term.  Yes, the author gets the general point across and some do better than others but not without lots of painful errors.

It’s great press and I’m so glad the article was written, but this is exactly what happened to me when I read this article about our department director.  I could barely continue reading past the first line, where Helene is referred to as the Digital Initiatives Librarian.  Unless they’ve changed something around here, this is not her job title.  She is the Director of Digital Strategy.  Contrary to popular belief, working at a library does not make you a librarian.

Sometimes it’s a matter of old habits dying hard.  For example, we’ve called ourselves Columbus Metropolitan Library for almost 20 years.  Yet, the so-called reputable local media still to this day calls us the Columbus Public Library!  I don’t think that’s ever been our official name.  WTF.

So, if every article you read on a topic you’re intimately familiar with is full of mistakes, doesn’t that mean that every article you consider to be accurate and informative about something new to you is actually lying to you?  Beware of what you read!  It could be misleading you.

(Old School Librarians may want to skip this paragraph).  Perhaps this is why I almost always find Wikipedia to be the most accurate source.  Rather than a journalist or commentator on a soapbox getting a little carried away and failing to check the facts, it’s a consortia of lots of people correcting each other’s little errors over time.

Something my husband often says:  “Always trust the historian, never trust the journalist.”   Yes, he’s a biased social studies teacher…but don’t you think he’s on to something here?  You may think this is about bashing journalists.  It’s not.  My point is: the onus is on us, as learners and consumers of information, to pause and consider: Is this really true?  We live in a culture of the short view.  We are too impatient to wait for the long view, the view that often comes with more accuracy.

I hope I can keep my resolution to integrate the long view and the pause button into my information consumption habits.  Wish me luck!  Also, I hope there is an ever-growing pool of good public service librarians out there who are modeling this behavior to their customers and encouraging them to do the same.