Monday, November 24, 2008

Research 101

When I was a devious youngster, one of my preferred activities was exploiting the gullible. I started out with small tricks, like "try this spoonful of Vanilla flavoring. It smells SOOO GOOD" and progressed to calling the police when children wouldn't eat their breakfast and then I went so far as convincing those not in the know that my pink plastic retainer was carved out of the roof of my mouth. Classics, each and every one of them.

When it comes to the Internet, though, I am and always have been a total skeptic. Regardless of what I have in front of me, my first order of business is usually to run over to Snopes to check it out. 99% of the time my skepticism is well-founded as a CAPS-LOCK, BOLD, LEANED OVER FALSE flashes on the screen. It's not like I don't want to believe. Buried somewhere in my bleak, dark exterior is a tiny flicker of blind optimism and faith. Just not so much where the Internet is concerned.


Frozen tidal wave? Nope.

USS New York made from 9-11 scrapmetal? Well, yes, but the picture being passed around is the USS San Antonio.

New U.S. Dollar coins designed to eliminate "In God We Trust"? Um, no.

Warm, fuzzy musings by George Carlin? Carlin himself called it a "sappy load of shit."

And so on and so on and so on.

It doesn't take much time to go online and look for verification about whatever it is the Internet is trying to feed you. Sometimes it will totally surprise you and it will be true. I would have NEVER thought the dead dog story was valid. I must admit I was very pleasantly surprised. Emphasis on surprised. But still in all, presenting information gathered on the Internet as your sole source of RESEARCH (students, I'm talking to you) is akin to finding a wadded up piece of paper in the gutter with the same information written on it. Maybe the information is good...but maybe it isn't. That's why you check and recheck our story and our sources BEFORE hanging your research skills out on the public line.

Tonight, as I was online skimming through the daily articles of my local newspaper, I came across an article that presented a long number of stores that have declared they are closing between October 2008 and January 2009. The list was rather long and whereas some of the locations appeared to be very OLD news, others were a left-field surprise. The list wasn't just a compilation of very bad news. The list was also false.

Hitting the charts at #23 on the hot list of Internet crap, Snopes listed this "store closing" email as a mixture of accurate, inaccurate and out-of-date information. My newspaper? Printed the bogus email verbatim. What's next? The $250 Neiman-Marcus cookie recipe?

Like I said, I want to believe. If I were told the Internet were dying and the only way to save would be to clap my hands and shout my beliefs, I'd be the first one to do it.

Right after I made sure it wasn't a hoax.

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