XDR-TB and the need to confirm sources

We’re back to the same old-same old with the XDR-TB issue which I first saw in Goodnight Vienna’s post and thank goodness we still have writers like that and as on this site, which was the whole point of bringing these writers together.

Meanwhile, to bring us up to speed [and even this is now outdated], you might read here, here and here.

You all remember Swine Flu, Bird Flu and AIDS. And what is the official reaction to the bird flu? GM modified, bird-flu resistant chickens. Oh my goodness. And we eat those. In which other ways have those chickens been “modified”?

So, we’re in a quandary as to our own reaction, are we not? The three-wise-monkey-I-don’t-do-conspiracy-theory contingent, highly resistant itself to anything called evidence before their eyes, is at odds with the believe-anything-connect-dots-or-die contingent. For the former, anything couched in official sounding, restrained language with the seal of some major body must be right and for the latter – anything in lurid colour and capitalization.

If you look at the article at the end of the bird flu link, you’ll see a quoted passage, supposedly by the BMA:

The lack of sustained human-to-human transmission suggests that this AH5N1 avian virus does not currently have the capacity to cause a human pandemic.

That quote went viral and dominates google searches on the issue, which raises the question of how it went viral and this is not unlike the early years of Christianity either. Something obviously happened or, detractors say, something was introduced for a purpose but either way, the quote, unaltered by anyone, does the rounds.

Even a writer for the BMA journal acknowledged the problem:

The influenza pandemic contingency plan presented by the chief medical officer is clear and comprehensive, but at nearly 450 pages, 11 downloadable documents, and many web links, it may not be ready reading for busy health professionals.

Which is why the MSM still has the drop on bloggers because it pays people for good sources, flying people out to troublespots and so on. People still get their raw information from the MSM. Wolfie made a statement recently:

A good post might tell me something I don’t know (information not widely broadcast), alternatively it can take a set of known facts and weave a new perspective through original analysis. However posts that simply riff off the MSM theme or re-iterate common internet conspiracy theory (half-arsed at that) is simply wasting my time.

Completely agree.

One major idea for this blog was that it would introduce chapter and verse on what’s going on around the world and here we get into editorial difficulties. There’ve been some excellent posts at Orphans so far but also one or two which have been, well, let’s say, a little less than careful and there’s been quite a bit of opinion alone, which doesn’t exactly take us forward, much as we might agree with the opinion.

The other criterion for Orphans was that the writers are all supposedly good writers – known for their readability and this does not necessarily have anything to do with scholastic standards, although I’d like to feel those we’ve invited have each attracted a following because what they write is worth reading.

It comes down to time with investigation and sourcing. The more time spent on a post, even if only the occasional one appears, is worth it if it is filled with quotes and links and sources which check out.

I’d include, in my idea of journalistic integrity, such writers as the Devil’s Kitchen, Unity and Julia M.  You can say what you like about their views but they certainly do their homework.

I don’t exclude myself from criticism over this:

I had a recent discussion at Orphans with John Cathcart who pointed out that he could not find the original document concerning Muller’s quote about Bailey, as it affected his own schools. The solution is simple – go to the original documents at the library but here there is the problem of regional libraries not stocking this material. You’d have to travel to London to search for that.

What we do have is other source material from his trustees, carrying on his work and that most certainly utilizes Bailey’s peculiar rhetoric. It confirms that Muller was thinking along these lines.  I’m currently sourcing Muller and shall present a case about the man, including that quote, in the near future.

So we have this problem today, with the internet swiftly disseminating information, that sources are often taken as read and while I’ve always sought a second source as a minimum, it’s not always there to be found but so many other tangential sources suggest that such is the case. In other words, the investigator knows something is so but still can’t finally prove it.

It comes down to how much we care about being accurate.  As John Cathcart wrote: “Truth matters” and it does but equally, when a source is deliberately removed, then that complicates the situation.

Disinformation

Which brings us to disinformation. While there’ve been no major internet disasters so far, celebrated ones I mean, where people all believed one thing but it was shown to be a hoax, there is this tendency to be less than careful about sources. I don’t mind reading that Cat Flu is about to sweep the UK and every blog will carry it because I can go off and check Wikipedia, can I not?

Not.

Wiki’s pretty good on non-controversial topics as a springboard but get into controversial figures and it gets wildly inaccurate, with omissions of fact all over the place. Getting in to correct those errors is no easy task either – Wiki has its own quiet politics. yet it throws up key phrases to explore – that’s if you have the time and which people, earning a crust for their family, are going to have the time to check out each and every assertion?

Another problem is that original sources have a habit of disappearing, once quoted. I ran a post on education in 2006 and checking back, some months ago, it was dismaying to see so many links had gone blank or discontinued. Of course, every pundit knows about caches but still – the average reader would like the link to lead somewhere, otherwise, it undermines the argument.

The worst examples on my blog have been anything on Common Purpose or the SPPNA, where sources seem to disappear, links run dry or the text has been rewritten [SPPNA site]. How can a blogger contend with this – it makes him out a liar?

Indications

It would seem to me that the blogosphere should adopt Wolfie’s maxim [above] and write to those standards. I’d like to think that Orphans would become such a blog where it would be quite difficult for anyone to gainsay what was written on it. We need to cover our butts that way and though I’ve tried to do that at my site, issuing a standing challenge to anyone to prove anything written there factually wrong, still I’ve been caught out and have had to amend the detail.

Another thing is that we shouldn’t kowtow to either the three-wise-monkey-I-don’t-do-conspiracy-theory contingent or to the believe-anything-connect-dots-or-die contingent. We should be circumspect about what we believe and able to refute would-be debunkers.

The last thing we need to recognize is that there is so much disinformation on the web, disappearing sources and people with agendas, happy to let us make fools of ourselves. Building a reputation is possible though and at Orphans, we started out with recognized bloggers and are slowly adding “quite simply – good writers”, not necessarily controversial and not necessarily even political, though the slant of the blog clearly is.

Slow and steady process.

9 comments for “XDR-TB and the need to confirm sources

  1. May 7, 2011 at 6:14 am

    I think it could be useful to copy and paste into Word info from other sources exactly because of the broken links problem. Those who are serious about their writing could easily set up a folder of source material for each of their most prized posts.

    • May 7, 2011 at 8:12 am

      That’s such a simple and sensible idea I wonder why I never thought of it. I’m always trawling back looking for the sources I’ve quoted when I want to refer to them again.

      • May 7, 2011 at 9:56 am

        I started bookmarking stuff, but the bookmark folder quickly grew quite unwieldy! 🙂

  2. May 7, 2011 at 6:23 am

    Which, in the case of that post on education, I did but it’s the old problem of time, sifting through about 12,000 documents. One can be serious but not have the time, unfortunately and then it comes down to priorities.

  3. May 7, 2011 at 6:47 am

    Not sure why you’re quoting my post in this James. I made it quite clear in the post that it was a spoof EU training video for schools aimed at engendering unwarranted fear.

    • May 13, 2011 at 6:42 pm

      Sorry to take so long to get back to you, GV but there are so many things attached to Orphans just now and I didn’t get back before the next few posts had gone up. Yes, I was just quoting you for that reason but then quoted someone further on [bird flu] where the quote had gone viral and it was difficult to find the source.

  4. May 7, 2011 at 10:25 am

    Good introspective post. I suggest you shouldn’t forget that the MSM has exactly the same problem – opinion is quicker and therefore cheaper than a well-researched article and usually more entertaining. Confirmation bias sells.

    “there’s been quite a bit of opinion alone, which doesn’t exactly take us forward”

    Opinion can take you forward if it opposes mainstream assumptions. As we all know, one of life’s main intellectual battles is identifying assumptions, especially our own. Radical opinion can suggest new angles and new research possibilities.

  5. May 7, 2011 at 11:14 am

    I rarely link to “evidence” of any claims I make. I am not lazy, it’s just that I would rather people searched and found what I found, then they can decide for themselves whether my claims are accurate or not.

    Accuracy IS important. And so is quality. I wrote a post (about freedom) for Orphans the other day. It would have been published yesterday but I went back to re-read it after saving the draft and decided I could do better. It was written hastily and I decided to trash it because we have some great writers on here and I wanted to at least try to match the quality of their writing. My post failed this test so it got deleted.

    My point?

    If an article is written well you will know that the author has done due diligence and there is therefore no need to pepper the post with links, which will, as James says, fade away in time. This will detract from the veracity of the post for readers who come later to read it. But if it is well written it will stand the test of time.

    CR.

  6. May 13, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    So the answer, as usual, is somewhere in between.

Comments are closed.