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Do Some Research

Entry 352, on 2006-06-19 at 13:12:41 (Rating 3, Computers)

I read an article in our local newspaper this morning by a commentator on legal issues. He was discussing how our country's government run no-fault insurance system is such a good thing because it prevents crazy law suits being undertaken as often happens in the US.

The cases he mentioned sounded familiar, and when I checked they ended up being from a list which was distributed by email several years ago as part of a case to pressure for tort law reform in the US. The problem was, they were all fake.

The Internet is a great place to gather information, but some caution is required. Finding crazy law cases is easy, but its also easy to do a little bit of extra research on the web and find out whether they are genuine. It took me about 30 seconds to establish they weren't. There are several good sites to check this sort of thing, but my favourite is snopes (www.snopes.com).

I presume the person writing this piece had some sort of law background, and was probably a lawyer (it didn't give his background in the paper) so its surprising he was taken in by such an obvious hoax. I would have though that a lawyer would be good at spotting false information. Another possibility is he knew this stuff was fake and was just using it to make a point, but I didn't see any indication of that.

A similar issue has arisen recently where I have been in a rather intense email debate with a supporter of intelligent design. If you pick and choose information from the web (or from other media) you can prove any case. Its important to look at several sources and analyse the likely veracity of each.

My friend who defended ID didn't seem to have a lot of balance in his information sources, so he was fooled into thinking it was valid. I looked at a range of sources of the same information and looked at it from different angles. My conclusion was that ID has no real merit. If they ever do any real research on it in future I'm prepared to look at it again, but at the moment there's no need.

Some people say I'm a real cynic because I usually assume most news and information is false or mis-leading until I research it fully. But its surprising how often my skepticism is justified. The Internet is a great place to find information, but unless you're careful that information can be worse than nothing. Its essential to spend a bit of extra time and to do some research.

Link at: http://www.snopes.com/

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