Vetting your information

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Doctorr Fabulous
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Vetting your information

Post by Doctorr Fabulous » Sat Jul 20, 2013 6:47 pm

This is probably gonna ruffle some feathers, so I'll be blunt. Not everything on the internet is true. The further removed you get from the actual source, the less reliable the information. So how does one vet information?

Well some basic tips. If you saw it on Facebook, you can probably ignore it outright. Same goes for Twitter unless it cites a viable source. But what about news articles?

http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-easy-ways ... y-internet
http://www.wikihow.com/Recognize-Bias-i ... er-Article
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/News_values
CRACKED? A HUMOR SITE? WIKI SITES? They have some valid points.

1. If you have never seen the cited website before, it's probably bullshit. Not always, but usually. The way to vet this is to search the article for a citation link. If it links to another website, then see if that website has another citation link. Try to follow it back to the original source, and if it still looks suspect (or you're not 100% sure it's a trustworthy source) try hitting the almighty google to learn about the website from a source like wikipedia. Did you know, for instance, that the lauded ZeroHedge was founded and originally staffed by former hedge funders and other brokers charged with insider trading just before the left Wall Street? By finding out about the website, you may find that it has a history of failure (the Daily Mail has written articles making claims based solely on the results of an online poll) or that they might have an axe to grind, so to speak.

2. If the claims seem too good to be true, they probably aren't. Again, do your research. If it was an add on another website, it's probably false. Look for buzzwords.
-"One weird old tip to lose weight fast!"
-"NEVER NEED A GUN AGAIN! Self defense techniques the FBI DOESN'T WANT YOU TO KNOW!"
-"WHAT YOUR DOCTOR DOESN'T WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT IONIZED GUAVA ROOT EXTRACT SUPPOSITORIES!"
-"What the government doesn't want you to know about FREE MONEY"
If you continually see buzzwords, consider stopping and investigating the article or the agency promoting the product. Remember that very few groups put anything on the internet for free, especially blogs. The Wesley Snipes income tax racket cost a family locally their house and put the father in jail. He worked for the accounting firm behind it and thought that he could just pay the taxes he thought he owed because he didn't support certain government programs. Too good to be true.

3. 90% of statistics are at least 50% bullshit. The best class I took in highschool was Statistics. we spend a decent portion of the class examining how statistics, especially polls, can be used, falsified, abused, and targeted to get a specific response. A quick test: ask everyone you know if they approve of cutting government spending. A few days later, have a friend ask those same friends if they think the government should cut funding to specific programs. Take care to name off programs you think they are likely to support. You'll get drastically different answers to the same general question. Now think of every poll you read. Most of them are conducted by paid polling agencies whose job is to get the poll to say what the customer wants it to say. The cracked article goes into this in depth, but I'll avoid getting specific as the best examples are hotbutton issues. Suffice it to say, people will take a poll and give an opinion even if they have no idea what they're talking about just because we're too proud to admit we have no bloody idea what they're talking about.

4. Understand how the news cycle works. No news is TERRIBLE. News is a 24hr business. I say again, NEWS is a BUSINESS from which a profit must be made. That profit is made by selling advertising, which is more profitable the more hits it gets. For TV news, that means getting people to watch. For printed media, it means subscribers. For internet media, that means getting people to click on the page.As such, shocking headlines and wild extrapolations have become par for the course. A scientist has found that birth rates are declining? "END OF HUMAN CIVILIZATION 2100AD?" Attach a date, make it fantastic, and everyone will forward it to their friends before (if ever) they realize that what the scientist actually said was that if birth rates continue to decline at the rate they are declining, civilization as we know it will radically change it. Take the Mayan nonsense for example, or the Zimmerman trial, or the vaccine debate. None of them should have been national news, but the more they are sensationalized, the more traffic can be generated, and the more money they make on it. Some news agencies will even print what they know to be false just because the hits they get from others who know it to be false will boost their ad revenue. The key to remember is that it doesn't have to be true, it just has to make money.

5. Read the URL. It's not just a bunch of computer code. Some normally reputable websites (Reuters, Forbes, and more) will allow people to basically run an unedited, unvetted blog on their website. Why? Because mroe content means more hits, whcih means more money. Often you can tell because it will be http://www.website.com/bloggers.name.bl ... ANT-WHALES" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;. This goes back to vetting the website. Also beware of any website that's trying to sell you something. It goes without saying that they have a vested interest in boosting the product.

6. Fringe sites. Instantly be wary. In particular be wary of any blog or reporting agency that allows reporters/bloggers to be completely anonymous. That is literally the opposite of journalistic integrity/accountability. Be especially wary of anyone who claims to tell you what the "mainstream media" doesn't or what X group doesn't want you to know.

Lastly, always be skeptical. We want to hear about scandals, miracles, huge leaps forward in science, and (particularly this board) doom and gloom. Remember to be skeptical at all times, and remember that EVERYONE has you an agenda, moreso if they claim they don't.
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Re: Vetting your information

Post by procyon » Sat Jul 20, 2013 8:02 pm

Doctorr Fabulous wrote:3. 90% of statistics are at least 50% bullshit.
I'll add just one thing.

Just because someone has numbers that 'prove' something - don't accept that those numbers mean anything without further research into what they are claiming.

Just like someone claiming that the decrease in the annual rainfall of a small town by 0.2" over the last 3 years has led to a decrease in the town's population by 10%.
The fact that the town's two major manufacturing plants also relocated to different states due to financial issues in that time frame would be more likely. They just don't mention that and attribute it to the reason they choose.

So look at what the claim is, the reason for it, and then see what other data is available. This tends to occur very often.
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Re: Vetting your information

Post by Paladin1 » Sat Jul 20, 2013 8:58 pm

But I'm reading your post on the internet, so....
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Re: Vetting your information

Post by DannusMaximus » Sat Jul 20, 2013 10:28 pm

Doctorr Fabulous wrote:3. 90% of statistics are at least 50% bullshit.
Gonna need to see some numbers to back up that claim...
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Re: Vetting your information

Post by Sledgecrowbar » Tue Jul 23, 2013 10:19 pm

Damnit, I spent all my money on ionized guava root extract suppositories. How was I supposed to know? Four out of five doctors believe it will make me immune to the zombie virus.

Srsly, if you read an article enough times (and the number of times varies with who's doing the reading), it's like one of those 3D stereo-images, all of the sudden you can spot the bullshit. Works in every article I've ever read about anything. Read it as if you were the person writing it, and you can see where the coloration of opinion, or what you want to be fact, comes into play.

Example: a financial expert was weighing in on the TV news the other night, and after his segment was done, the anchor cut to something about immigration reform, and then the finance guy offered up a new piece of information to that segment as well. It took me until the end of discussing the immigration reform topic at the dinner table to realize and mention that the person who added the pivotal fact was a finance expert, and the "fact" was likely his opinion, presented as fact to add weight to it.

TV news is all sensational bullshit anyway, but I don't think that's news at all to anyone.

Full disclosure: my method of analyzing articles works best on political topics. They are the low-hanging fruit of bullshit detection practice.
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Re: Vetting your information

Post by kir » Mon Sep 08, 2014 8:56 pm

This needs to be required reading for new members.
What is ZS and what are the ZS forums?

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Re: Vetting your information

Post by Snyper708 » Mon Sep 08, 2014 11:47 pm

Four out of five doctors believe it will make me immune to the zombie virus.
Do you have symptoms of Zombie Virus?

If not, it's working

It also repels Elephants
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Re: Vetting your information

Post by KYZHunters » Tue Sep 09, 2014 6:16 am

A side benefit of following the good doctor's advice is lower blood pressure. I have friends who live in a permanent state of outrage as they furiously pass one easily-debunkable news story link after another around their circle. Recently, I took a news break after allowing the meta news about the Ferguson, MO shooting get inside my loop, and I'm happier for it.

Also, Sledgecrowbar, you need to take the aluminum foil off the guava root extract suppositories, before using them. Don't ask how I know.
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Re: Vetting your information

Post by Barnabus » Tue Sep 09, 2014 9:03 am

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Re: Vetting your information

Post by Stercutus » Tue Sep 09, 2014 9:14 am

Doctorr Fabulous wrote:This is probably gonna ruffle some feathers, so I'll be blunt. Not everything on the internet is true.
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Re: Vetting your information

Post by Kathy in FL » Tue Sep 09, 2014 9:37 am

Honey, those statistics don't just apply to the internet. :crazy:

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Re: Vetting your information

Post by williaty » Tue Sep 09, 2014 2:07 pm

The sad thing is that the ZS members who really need to read this are the ones who are going to ignore it because this is just Doc buying into the line the Man wants to feed you through the MSM :(

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Re: Vetting your information

Post by ineffableone » Tue Sep 09, 2014 3:22 pm

Something that annoys the crap out of me is the scientific papers published online require you to pay to view them. Some are worse than others requiring longer term paid memberships to view content.

Due to this, you often have to rely on 2nd hand analysis of the papers as for the average person, paying to review a scientific article is just not worth the money.

While I don't begrudge science trying to make a buck, this system is quite annoying. Essentially blocking the ability of average people to verify scientific claims.

I don't know about others but I have run into cited science being pay to see papers a lot. This does me no good when I want to know if something is accurately reported.

A good example of this is the recent report of Vikings being 1/2 women. This was actually from a 2011 paper but recently hit the news cycle, and the reports in the news cycle were very distorted from what the actual paper said. The reality is the paper said 1/2 the settlers were women not that the raiders were 1/2 women. But did mention the finding of women with swords and shield in a mass grave. Mentioning that normally the bodies were sexed just by the objects found next to them, but they instead this time they actually used the bodies to find the sex and discovered, yes there were women buried with weapons. However when I tried to actually read the paper, I couldn't unless I wanted to pay for the ability. While an interesting topic, not so interesting I want to have to pay to verify the study. I had to rely on others reporting what the paper said to uncover the actual facts of what was in the paper, rather than being able to quickly and easily see for myself.

I think this pay for science papers thing really needs to end. We need to be able to see and verify the science that gets reported rather than just accepting what others tell us the science says. This need to pay to view the results also allows the less than scrupulous to make claims of what a paper says with out it being true. They know most people will not pay to see the results. Most will only go as far as to verify yes the paper exists if even that. So distortions or misuse of papers is quite common as the common person can't actually view them easily.

Sorry for the rant, but it is something I have bumped up against repeatedly and it annoys the crap out of me.
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Re: Vetting your information

Post by Beowolf » Tue Sep 09, 2014 4:56 pm

I can sympathize in many ways. I work in an academic library and have a lot of experience with this. Granted, given where I work, I have access to such research by virtue of my institutions policies and contracts, and that's actually the crux of 'open access' research versus the current pay-to-read arrangement. The hiccup is that someone has to pay for the digitization, storage, and continued access to these resources. It gets stupid expensive, and it sure isn't the authors who see the revenues.

But this brings us into yet another conversation that is the crux of Doc's point--verification of data. Academia and professional networks (mostly/usually) rely on peer review prior to publishing. Such review panels are institutionalized as part of the discipline itself and additionally as part of the educational complex. This stuff doesn't grow on the sides of the streets--it takes revenue, resources, funds, people, time, electricity...yadda yadda, to make all of this happen.

It's a clusterfuck to get good information sometimes. It's even more of a clusterfuck sometimes to have to listen to people attempt to understand something that they honestly have no business reading...

My poor attempt at a solution--if you find the citation and want the resource, send it to me. We likely have access. I'll get you a copy, or I'll do my best to do so. Whether or not you understand what you read is a burden I leave you to bear.
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Re: Vetting your information

Post by williaty » Tue Sep 09, 2014 5:06 pm

ineffableone wrote:Something that annoys the crap out of me is the scientific papers published online require you to pay to view them. Some are worse than others requiring longer term paid memberships to view content.

...

While I don't begrudge science trying to make a buck, this system is quite annoying. Essentially blocking the ability of average people to verify scientific claims.
So, this is sort of a hold-over legacy of when things were printed. It's (in most cases) not the scientist or their boss asking you for money, it's the journal it was published in.

The way things have traditionally worked is that there were a number of specialized journals (magazines for scientists) that would publish papers relevant to a narrow field. A few journals (like Science) published a variety of the most important research of the day. When a scientist though he'd learned something useful, he'd submit the paper to the relevant journal and ask for publication. The journal staff would try to determine if the paper's findings were either new or otherwise important. If they were, the journal's staff would sent the paper out to some other specialists in the field for commentary and to spot any easy errors (peer review). After any suggested edits, the journal staff would then put the paper on the docket for the next publication (usually fairly infrequent). When publication time came around, the journal's staff would typeset it, print it, bind it, and send it out to everyone who had subscribed to the journal. Journal subscriptions were generally rather expensive due to the fact that the journal is covering all the editing, peer review, publishing, and distribution costs without any source of revenue other than the journal subscription fees.

Now, most journals are still distributed in a paper format (as much for tradition's sake as anything else) but are also available on the journal's website. However, the journal still has to cover all the editing and peer review costs, as well as all costs related to the website, hosting, and bandwidth to facilitate your download of the article. It's a commercial enterprise and you pay for the work the journal's staff does to provide you the ability to access the research.
I think this pay for science papers thing really needs to end. We need to be able to see and verify the science that gets reported rather than just accepting what others tell us the science says. This need to pay to view the results also allows the less than scrupulous to make claims of what a paper says with out it being true. They know most people will not pay to see the results. Most will only go as far as to verify yes the paper exists if even that. So distortions or misuse of papers is quite common as the common person can't actually view them easily.
Options if you really care and don't just want another reason to attack science:
1) Subscribe to the journal yourself if it's a subject you like
2) Pay per paper if you don't
3) Email scientist directly and ask for pdf of paper (you'll usually get it)
4) Ask your local library if they're part of a network that allows you to request this stuff (and may be available online as well)
5) Go to any collegiate/university library. Several years worth of most journals in everything the school teaches will be available on the shelves, older stuff will be in storage and available by request
6) Go to any collegiate/university library. Sit down at one of their computers and use the online paper subscription service they all have that allows you to access basically everything ever published.

You have a LOT of ways to get this information on your own and some of them are free. Don't get cranky because the journal that published the article is trying to stay in business. That's just capitalism! You really want socialized science publication?

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Re: Vetting your information

Post by AfleetAlex » Tue Sep 09, 2014 5:26 pm

I can't stand 'Share Whores'. You know, those people on FB and forums that share posts/articles without making any attempt to vet their info.

My vetting process: Read post/article. Google to compare with other mainstream news sources, offbeaten path sources, Reuters, and BBC. If I'm still not sure, I chose not to share it. Any time you post information, you're putting your name on it. If you are consistently wrong, you lose credibility and people will cease to take anything you say seriously.
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Re: Vetting your information

Post by Doctorr Fabulous » Tue Sep 09, 2014 6:57 pm

Sadly even peer review isn't a solid guarantee. The nature of science is that scientists are constantly trying to break each other's hypotheses, but limited funding means nobody likes publishing replication studies. Why publish "yea, we did the thing and it worked" when there's more interesting stuff, right? Add in that many (most?) reputable journals also charge a fee to have a study reviewed and you end up with what's called the "file drawer effect" wherein good but uninteresting studies don't get published.

http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Publication_bias

The other issue is getting publications to issue retractions. See: the Lancet and the Wakefield Autism/Vaccine study.
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Re: Vetting your information

Post by Beowolf » Tue Sep 09, 2014 7:06 pm

Yes, hence my statement: "Academia and professional networks (mostly/usually) rely on peer review prior to publishing."

That's not even to get into the gaping ignorance that is public knowledge of research methods...but that's probably for another rant.
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Re: Vetting your information

Post by ineffableone » Tue Sep 09, 2014 8:12 pm

Beowolf wrote:My poor attempt at a solution--if you find the citation and want the resource, send it to me. We likely have access. I'll get you a copy, or I'll do my best to do so. Whether or not you understand what you read is a burden I leave you to bear.
Thanks that is a great offer, and I might take you up on it sometime if williaty's suggestions 3-6 don't work out next time I need to look up a scientific paper.

Both of you thank you for your responses. I do still think the system needs some streamlining and updating for the modern area. Though do also agree that too much info in the wrong hands can be dangerous. Seeing how often these papers get twisted around by media to mean exactly the opposite of what the paper does say is a good example of how uneducated people can seriously misinterpret information to fit their bias.
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Re: Vetting your information

Post by duodecima » Tue Sep 09, 2014 11:01 pm

ineffableone wrote:This does me no good when I want to know if something is accurately reported.
I want to go around and lash a whole bunch of alleged science journalists with a wet noodle, but if I ever started I don't think I'd get to do anything else with my life. I think it's more related to the copy-pasta state of reporting (I'm not going to call most of it journalism as that's insulting to actual journalists) as a whole in mass media these days.

You simply CANNOT take a mass media headline about any science thing at face value. Ineffable is totally right, if it's a field you are capable of understanding, try to get the original paper yourself. If not, you're stuck finding a source you can trust and good luck with that. :? Beowolf's going to be waaaay better at finding things than I am, but I've also got access to a ton of online stuff thru work, if there's something particular you can try PM'ing me as well.

The thing that also infuriates me if I think too much about it is the dirty little secrets of the medical literature (and other fields I am told) I ran across when I was doing 2 original studies of my own during training. I did a keyword search, read all the articles, and then went thru their bibliographies that they cited (when they assert stuff in the intro, or conclusion, as part of the logic for doing the study). I discovered that in a small minority of cases, the article cited did not, in fact, state or support the fact they were citing it to support. Even worse, since at that time I had to order paper copies, I would get the abstract first and then a week or more later get the whole paper. There were a couple where what the abstract said the conclusion was, did not exactly match the actual conclusion. Now, I'm not a professional researcher, and wasn't done with training at the time, so it's possible some of these were my misunderstanding. But there were enough that I am confident, despondently, that it wasn't just me. Somebody had to write a paper and and abstract and make it look good, so they BS'd part of it AND it got past peer review. :shock: :gonk: :evil:

TL;DR - You can't completely trust the abstract, either. You have to read the paper. Carefully.

And even then you're hosed without a stats degree, or at least some knowledge - I can't cite exact stats (more precisely I cannot find the source for the stats I remember) but an alarming number of publications in and out of medicine contain howling statistical errors. I know that I can occasionally spot some of them, and I'm ridiculously undertrained in stats, I basically taught myself enough to do my research and stopped when I couldn't self teach any more because it was too damn complicated.

And that's before we get to the (very positive!) trend of trying to require institutions and drug companies to make their complete original datasets available for re-analysis, because that turns out to be an issue, when somebody else can't get the same statistical results out of your allegedly original dataset using your alleged methods.

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Re: Vetting your information

Post by Stercutus » Wed Sep 10, 2014 8:15 am

TL;DR - You can't completely trust the abstract, either. You have to read the paper. Carefully.

And even then you're hosed without a stats degree, or at least some knowledge - I can't cite exact stats (more precisely I cannot find the source for the stats I remember) but an alarming number of publications in and out of medicine contain howling statistical errors. I know that I can occasionally spot some of them, and I'm ridiculously undertrained in stats, I basically taught myself enough to do my research and stopped when I couldn't self teach any more because it was too damn complicated.
Yup. As an undergrad student working for a department head while he was "writing" a text book I was shocked by his ineptitude at math. He was supposed to be a professor of finance. A lot papers are ghost written by graduate students who are trying to divide attention between a number of tasks. They then get poor editing and the peer reviews are based upon the personality of the person submitting the paper. Not saying all of them are like this but enough.

Still I'd take a reference to a poorly written, horribly edited paper over anything by Alex Jones or The Nation.
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Re: Vetting your information

Post by sheddi » Sun Sep 14, 2014 6:06 am

A great thread, thanks to everyone for their contributions.

What I'll add is that not all scientific journals are created equal. Most of them are good, but there are a few out there that seem to be more interested in their publication fees than in the quality of their articles. It's a bit like vanity publishing for scientists.

And that goes double for scientific conference papers. In principle conference papers are held to the same standards of rigour as are journal articles, and if it's eg. Electrochem 2014 you've got the UK's national chemistry society underwriting the calibre of work. However there are conferences with less onerous standards and these, again, can look a lot like vanity publishing.

Edit to add:
Here are some articles on the topic. (Hopefully from reliable sources!)
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/08/healt ... odayspaper&
http://www.cs.bris.ac.uk/Teaching/learn ... ences.html
http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2 ... onferences
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Boondock
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Re: Vetting your information

Post by Boondock » Sun Sep 14, 2014 9:20 am

Some of you might find this interesting:

When I was a cub reporter at a rural Indiana newspaper, I was assigned to cover the farming and agriculture beat. Even though I'd never set foot on a farm, except for a few weeks detasseling corn and a school field trip.

Poof! I suddenly was expected to be an expert. Want a laugh? Dig up some old stories I wrote about federal farm subsidies. Oh, good grief. :roll:

The same thing often takes place on the science and health-care beats, as journalists are supposed to be "five-minute experts" on myriad, if not all, subjects.

I did learn this on my short stint covering the farms: Red Gold brand tomatoes taste as good as they do because of the feed mixture eaten by pigs, whose poop is liquified and sprayed on the fields to fertilize the tomato crop.

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Re: Vetting your information

Post by Stercutus » Wed Sep 17, 2014 2:09 pm

Boondock wrote:Some of you might find this interesting:

When I was a cub reporter at a rural Indiana newspaper, I was assigned to cover the farming and agriculture beat. Even though I'd never set foot on a farm, except for a few weeks detasseling corn and a school field trip.

Poof! I suddenly was expected to be an expert. Want a laugh? Dig up some old stories I wrote about federal farm subsidies. Oh, good grief. :roll:

The same thing often takes place on the science and health-care beats, as journalists are supposed to be "five-minute experts" on myriad, if not all, subjects.

I did learn this on my short stint covering the farms: Red Gold brand tomatoes taste as good as they do because of the feed mixture eaten by pigs, whose poop is liquified and sprayed on the fields to fertilize the tomato crop.
If I am reading this right you are saying that the best tomatoes are fertilized by bacon?

Totally plausible. Do you have more info on the feed mixture?
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