I Should Have Done a Better Job Checking My Sources. You Should Always Check Your Sources!
I probably should have written this sooner. I have a rather embarrassing confession to make, it seems I accidentally linked to an antisemitic website without knowing it. I ended up linking to a site that I shouldn’t have in the first part of my essay on guns, “Welcome to the Wingnut Parallel Universe Part 2A: Gun Control & Tyranny.” I should have been a lot more careful, but because I wasn’t, I ended up linking to a website called “Veterans Today,” and using it as a source. Unfortunately I failed to realize that it’s a far right loon website. The post I linked to on that website was about how the Confederacy fought to maintain slavery. Based on that one page, it didn’t look like a website that promoted antisemitic / anti Zionist conspiracy theories. In fact it was refuting a common racist claim, that the South didn’t fight for slavery during the Civil War. I wouldn’t have imagined such a bigoted website doing something like that, unless they were pro slavery, and they didn’t appear to be, based on what they wrote on that page. However, if I had read what the Southern Poverty Law Center had to say about them, or even explored their website a bit more, I would have come to realization that it wasn’t something I should rely on as a source. Luckily I didn’t quote from the “Veterans Today” page. I also had other, more reliable, sources that I used to back up the claim that the South fought for slavery, two pages from the Huffington post, written by, two different authors. I was able to simply delete the link to the antisemitic “Veterans Today” and posted an update with an apology.
Note: this story originally contained a link to a website called “Veterans Today,” which I just came to realize is a website that promotes antisemitic conspiracy theories, so I removed the link. I might have replaced it with their original source, which they said was the Miami Herald, but it appeared to no longer be online. Sorry about that. I don’t know how missed that.
It was important that I admit my mistake, because I would be dishonest if I just deleted the link without admitting to my error. That’s something we here at LGF have rightfully attacked ( hopefully not to be our next president ) Trump for doing, as well as our old “friend” Pamela Geller.
Maybe one of the reasons that I linked to “Veterans Today” and didn’t realize it was a hate site, had to do with my own biases. I’m a red blooded American patriot, and although I don’t always approve of what they have done, I admire my nation’s military. I also really want to support our veterans, even through I’ve never gone off to war and have never served in any branch of the military. One has to be aware of their own biases. No one is free of bias and if not careful it might prevent them from seeing the facts.
Also it is a historical fact that the confederacy was about slavery. There are many more sources I could have used to back up my point, and I would have been able to easily find many more without using any loon sites. However, I wasn’t careful and messed up.
Truth be told I had forgotten that I had linked to “Veterans Today,” so much so that when I saw this tweet, it didn’t register that I had made the mistake of using the site as a source.
It was only later when I decided to post the link I had used in my commentary in a response to someone commenting on another blog, that I realized my mistake. Now maybe “Veterans Today” isn’t technically a Nazi site, after all, Nazis usually wouldn’t have much of a problem with the confederacy for opposing the rights of black people. That said, it turns out that people writing for “Veterans Today,” have posted things disturbingly similar to what you would expect to find on a Neo Nazis’ website. Holocaust denial is not something to be taken lightly.
As a rule, you really shouldn’t link to disreputable sources to support your argument, unless you’re trying to refute them. Using sources that promote things like creationism, or climate change denial, or in my case antisemitism, to bolster whatever your argument is, is not a good idea. Even if that source happens to be right about something, it doesn’t negate all the times when it was wrong. Sure, even reputable sources can be wrong, and even disreputable sources can be correct sometimes. If I happened to notice that Ken Ham, posted something on Answers In Genesis, that wasn’t a bunch of pseudo scientific creationist nonsense, I still wouldn’t link to him and promote him as a reliable source of information. At the very least, doing so would make me look ignorant, for endorsing someone who insists that “real science” says that evolution is a “lie,” and everything was created in six literal days.
One of the things that should have led me to question Islamophobic “Scholar” Robert Spencer, much sooner, is the fact that the company that publishes his work, also publishes creationist materials. Why wouldn’t someone who is as scholarly as Spencer claims to be, not have his work published by either a university or at least a much more reputable trade press than Regnery Publishing? Any budding youtube skeptic, who didn’t know any better, might not know about how he knowingly joined forces with white nationalists, or the fact that he has promoted ridiculous baseless conspiracy theories, and instead think that he’s a credible source of information. Much of what Spencer has written does indeed sound rather academic, and that might fool some people into thinking he’s more credible than he actually is. Now one can, and should be skeptical of, and criticize religion, including Islam. Both the Bible and the Qur’an are full of morally abhorrent passages. There are passages in the both books that can be, and are, used to justify violence, intolerance, misogyny, and injustice.
Criticizing religion, debunking religious apologists, is something that skeptics do, especially when said apologists promote anti science like creationism, in order to prop up a fundamentalist version of their religion. However in doing so, one must do their homework. The skeptic needs to make sure that the sources they use to try to debunk the apologist are reliable, and they aren’t promoting as much nonsense as the religious apologist they are trying to debunk. Sometimes if they’re not careful, they could end up spreading falsehoods themselves instead of debunking the apologist. This is especially true if the apologist they are trying to debunk, is part of a religious minority, that has been heavily demonized. One needs to do their research and not relay on bigots or sources that are not objective, or those that don’t bother to backup their claims. If one relied on Spencer, ( or just about any “counter jihad” author or blogger ) for information on say, what taqiyyah is, they could end up spreading a paranoid baseless conspiracy theory, that dehumanizes a religious minority.*
The same goes for any subject, including science and history. Imagine how you would react if someone who you regarded as a good skeptic, suddenly started treating that fraud, David Barton, as if he were a reliable source on US history and repeated his falsehoods on their blog. Barton is a fundamentalist Christian ideologue, he is not a historian, even through he claims to be one. He is a political propagandist. Real historians who have actual degrees from accredited universities, generally speaking, don’t have a lot of respect for people like Barton. His work is full of so many falsehoods that Thomas Nelson, the conservative Christian publisher, who published his “The Jefferson Lies” stopped publishing the book, and had it pulled from shelves. However, someone who was ignorant of US history might mistake this dishonest, pathetic joke of a “historian,” for someone who is an expert on US history.
There are plenty of unqualified people who appear to be qualified at first glance, who will tell you that climate change is a myth, and they are all wrong. Carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere causing global warming, unfortunately, like evolution, is a fact, no matter how much we may dislike it. The science is in, and we have a real problem on our hands. The more people who think that climate change is not real, or that we humans have nothing to do with it, the harder it will be to solve the problem. However, if you came across someone who was well educated and they told you that climate change isn’t caused by people, you might believe them, if they seemed qualified, and you didn’t know that much about climate science.
Anti science claims are not always easy to spot, especially to people with a limited education. The Young Earth Creationism of people like Ken Ham, ( who I mentioned earlier ) might be easy to spot as nonsense to anyone with even a basic science background. Then again, the significantly more sophisticated form of creationism, “Intelligent design,” might be able to fool a lot more people who have some understanding of biology, but are far from experts in the field. If one didn’t do their research, they might mistakenly think “intelligent design” proponents were onto something when they say that such things as the bacteria flagellum or the human immune are “too complex” to have evolved by natural selection.
There are two groups in the United States with the words “American” and “pediatrician” as part of their name. The American Academy of Pediatricians, and the American Collage of Pediatricians. Both have very academic sounding names, and both have rather academic looking websites. That said, while the first one is a group of medical professionals who genuinely care about the well being of children, the latter is a group of homophobic and transphobic ideologues who insist that things like “repairative therapy” are a good idea, even through it has been proven to not change anyone’s gender identity or sexual orientation, and causes a great deal of harm. While like the American Academy of Pediatricians, the American Collage of Pediatricians may include actual physicians among their staff, they put their ideology above science, and endorse pseudoscience whenever genuine science doesn’t support their extremist agenda. A parent who didn’t know any better, and thought the American Collage of Pediatricians was as credible as the American Academy of Pediatricians, could easily end up harming their gay or transgender child.
Even people who usually know what they’re talking about, have their own biases and can sometimes get their facts wrong. I have a great deal of respect for anti racist activist Tim Wise. However, Wise is completely wrong to blame racism on what he calls “scientism” or “the fetishizing of science.” One should not be blindly trusted, no matter how respected they may be. If someone on say a news, or science blog, makes what sounds like an incredibly far fetched claim, check to see if other equally reputable sources back up what they wrote. See if someone gives you an idea as to how they came to that conclusion. You don’t want to report false information as if its true. If you do that, you are not spreading knowledge about how the world actually works, but ignorance and misinformation. You should always check your sources, especially when you have a reason to doubt what they said. This goes for myself as well. None of us are perfect.
At one time I saw what appeared to be a news story about a cat collar that lets your cat talk to you. It supposedly translated their meows into human speech somehow. Tim Nudd at Adweek, really made it sound like this collar was for real.
Since the dawn of time, humans have been confounded by cats, those mystifyingly aloof creatures whose inner thoughts are famously inscrutable. But no longer! Temptations Cat Treats has invented a cat collar that lets your feline speak in a human voice—so you can finally understand (though probably not) exactly what she is trying to tell you.
The Temptations Catterbox, created by London ad agency adam&eveDDB, contains a microphone, speaker, Bluetooth technology and wifi. It captures the cat’s meows and translates them into human speech—words that may or may not actually be what they’re trying to say.
The Catterbox is the work of the new Temptations Lab, a scientific-sounding “research workstream dedicated to the future of fun times with your cat,” according to the Mars brand. It is 3-D printed, coated in rubber lacquer for the cat’s comfort and comes in four colors.
Many other news sites reported the story of the Catterbox talking cat collar, as if it were the real deal. I was thinking about sending an email about this amazing new device to all my cat loving friends and relatives, and tell them about this new Catterbox cat collar. Finally everyone would be able to understand what their cats were thinking! However, it still seemed a bit hard to believe to me. My mother as well as my brother weren’t buying the idea of this new cat collar that would translate meows, and I wasn’t fully buying the claims either. I did a bit more research and as we suspected, the claims made by “Temptations Cat Treats” and “Temptationslab” were bunk. It turned out to be just an extremely clever ad campaign to sell cat food, and the talking cat collar didn’t translate meows into human speech. Not surprising really, but what was surprising to me was how so many news sites that I normally think of as reputable, reported on the Catterbox cat collar, as if it actually worked. Too bad it wasn’t real, I wanted it to be real.
Now some of you might ask, what would have been the big deal? If you had made the mistake of telling people that this talking cat collar really did translate meows into English and other human languages, people would quickly find out that it didn’t do what they said it would. That may be true, but what about other examples of things the media, at least initially got wrong? Some mistakes might be much more serious and have much more lasting consequences.
Now there are things that reasonable people can disagree on, but when the evidence supporting one claim over another is so incredibly overwhelming, there is no way for people to disagree and still be reasonable. Even if “Veterans Today” is right about the motives of the Confederates, promoting them as a trustworthy source will encourage people who don’t know any better, to trust them when they’re clearly wrong. It also gives people less reason to trust me as a source. I should have been more careful and for that I’m sorry, however, thankfully I noticed my mistake, and fixed it. Hopefully people can learn from this and be careful to always check their sources. I will add “Veterans Today” to my list of sources that I will never link to, unless I’m planning on debunking them. Even then, I won’t link directly to their website, but will instead use methods to minimize the effects my links will have on promoting their bigoted blog. I for one, from now on, will work harder to make sure that all my sources are up to snuff. I don’t want this to happen again.
On a related note, Martymer 81 just released an excellent video commentary on why you should always cite your sources.
*Note: I’m sorry that Klingschor’s video on Taqiyyah is no longer online. He was a great skeptic and did an excellent job looking at Islam with a critical eye. However, he is no longer on youtube and he took his videos offline.