Friday, September 21, 2018

Rosenstein on the "rule of law" and education

Rod Rosenstein
image source: Wikipedia
Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General, has been in the news a lot lately. Today he defends himself as a victim of false reporting in connection with a report that he proposed using a wire secretly to tape conversations with Donald Trump (in an effort to impeach him).

He adamantly denies the accusation.

Back in August, another statement--reported in Bloomberg's Big Law Business--has relevance for this unfolding story:
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein called on lawyers to “accept a personal duty to keep the republic by teaching” the principles of the rule of law, which he said was critical to American democracy. 
Upholding “the rule of law is not just about litigation in courtrooms,” Rosenstein said. “It is also about education in classrooms and living rooms.”
When anyone is a victim of (dis)information, what are they to do? I guess you do what Rosenstein did today: deny it publicly (he has no trouble being picked up by the press) and hope that lawyers come to your aid by upholding the rule of law, including innocent until proven guilty. Interesting that he calls on lawyers to do the teaching.

Not many lawyers may heed the call to stand before students to impress on them how the law should work, but it's an interesting idea. Imagine a class or library session on evaluation that involves a lawyer. With so many accusations in the news, both justified and unjustified, what is the right approach to take? Rosenstein touches on that in this statement from the same Bloomberg article:
“The term ‘rule of law’ describes the government’s obligation to follow neutral principles,” and “reserve judgment until we have heard from all parties and completed a fair process,” Rosenstein said. 
It requires that we “avoid confirmation bias and remain open to the possibility that the truth may not match our preconceptions,” he said.
In an age of disinformation, this is sage advice for students to practice. It doesn't require a lawyer to teach it--any teacher or adult should be able to make this claim. Investigative searching, to be fair, must do the same: withhold judgment until the facts are checked.

In Rosenstein's recent predicament, the facts may be hard to check, as it may come down to who heard him say what and in what context. What words were used and what did they mean? Until then, it's good not to jump to conclusions, otherwise confirmation bias can play havoc.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Monkey This Up

The interest (reaction) generated by this phrase is worth noting:

“The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state. That is not going to work. That’s not going to be good for Florida.”

The author (speaker) is Ron DeSantis who is competing in the gubernatorial race in Florida this fall. The quote is part of a statement he made about his African American rival, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

Republican and Democrats have joining in criticizing the use of the term 'monkey'.  The negative (stereotypical) association of 'monkey' with racial overtones has a long history, as the Washington Post points out.

  • Scientific theories about the relationship between apes and dark-skinned people were promulgated in the mid-1800's.
  • Museum displays depicting the evolution of primates to humans positioned the black adult next to the chimpanzee, according to author and historian W. E. B. Du Bois.
  • More recently, Rosanna Barr applied the comparison to a former Obama adviser, comparing her to an ape: “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby....”
Whether this term is an indicator of DeSantis' personal bias is unclear. The context might say otherwise as it's applied to the state of Florida, not necessarily his opponent. But based on the reaction, it's a poor choice of word and one that generated a bad press.

The words we use can be triggers. It's useful to know what they are and pay attention. 

A word like 'monkey' (even used as a verb) should pop out when read. That's often the way it is with bias. Instead of that word, what else could the author have used? And why didn't he?

Image source:
Icons made by Freepik from is licensed by CC 3.0 BY

Monday, September 17, 2018

Locating Disinformation

Fragment of the cover of Disinformation,
a book by Ion Mihai Pacepa, ex-deputy 
chief of communist Romania’s foreign 
intelligence, and law professor 
Ronald J. Rychlak
Just finished reading a module produced for UNESCO to combat disinformation: Combatting disinformation and misinformationthrough Media and Information Literacy (MIL) by Magda Abu-Fadil.

It's a lesson that may be used by instructors over two 90 minute periods, divided this way: 1) theoretical (tools for detection) and 2) practical (fraudulent stories in the news and analysis).

The module doesn't state where to look for fraudulent news, just to use some examples from local news sources.

This raises the question, how does one find disinformation? It could take time to track down false news stories for the purposing of teaching.  Of course, not every story used for analysis doesn't need to be false; some should be legitimate (some absolutely need to be false).

When looking for examples of articles to fact check, I've queried fake news examples. This actually works pretty well, but the examples tend to be older. Finding something fresh and false requires some luck.

Fresh means resorting to news feeds. Here are some examples. Facebook was a source of disinformation in the 2016 election cycle. They are bound to be more diligent in 2018. So where would you look as this campaign heats up?

Where are you likely to find disinformation?  Leave a comment.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Fact Checking Refresher

When and where did this occur?
Fact checking is in the news a lot these days because of fake news. Concurrent with the US midterm elections this fall, fake news is anticipated to increase, attempting to confuse voters about facts.

Warnings abound, for instance this article from Axios: Fake News 2.0: The propaganda war gets sophisticated.

Here are a few points from the article:
"Bad actors are looking to mimic more normal communications, instead of spewing bright commentary that could get them flagged for spreading hate or violence."
"Language and behaviors are becoming a lot more sophisticated and human-like to avoid detection."
"The new trend is bad actors taking advantage of existing polarization to manipulate groups of real people, as opposed to creating or pretending to be groups of people."

If deliberate deception is ever-evolving to be less obvious, fake news (not just what Trump calls fake news) will be all the harder to detect.

Fact checking is really the only remedy unless 1) your mind is already made up (you are polarized) and 2) you stay off the Web.

Let's assume there are still consumers of information whose minds aren't locked down and who venture online to be informed. How do they avoid consuming fake news?

Fact Check This

"FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead of Apparent Murder-Suicide." This was a headline and story picked up by Facebook during the 2016 Presidential Campaign. (Pew Researchers recently reported that 62 percent of American adults get their news from social media, in particular, Facebook: close to two-thirds of Facebook users get news from the platform. So this story wasn't trivial.)

Fact checking involves looking for proper nouns, claims, images, dates and numbers that may easily be investigated.

One could start with the the source: The Denver Guardian. It sounds real but the Denver Guardian does not exist except in fiction. The Website was launched in July of 2016 and most of it was unfinished at the time the article appeared. Immediately the story loses credibility.

From the content of the story, other facts are waiting to be checked. For example, a reference that credits TV news station WHAG-TV with coverage of the story. Examination of that station's site reveals no coverage, another red flag. 

The image of a burning house in the Denver Guardian first appeared on Flickr in 2010. Drag the image above into Google Image Search and look for matches (excuse the pun). What do you find?

Fake news is not limited to a few inaccuracies: they abound.

Next time you read something with potential consequences, take a moment to fact check it out.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Advanced Searching

As part of developing curriculum strands to make it easier to use our site, we're pleased to announce a new MicroModule on Advanced Searching. Several of the search challenges we've authored involve using an unfamiliar database/search engine. In all these cases, the sites have their own advanced search filters, specifically, proprietary drop-down menu guides.

Since valuable information is found only in dedicated databases (there's one for almost any topic or subject), knowing how to use an unfamiliar search engine is part of information fluency that should not be overlooked.

You can find the new MicroModule here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

New LEGO Challenge

Improvements in Google algorithm have made the Lego History Challenge too easy to solve as a Level 2 Challenge.

Consequently, a new challenge has replaced it:

This is one of six free search challenges on the Information Fluency site and is intended to help diagnose novice problems with querying. Failure to answer this challenge indicates one or more of the following:

1. Not understanding the question
2. Using more than a minimum of keywords
3. Not browsing effectively--skimming too fast

The answer does not appear in the snippets/abstracts if too many keywords are used, in which case browsing the results is necessary.

See how you do. It's a Level 2 (out of 6).

Monday, September 10, 2018

Finding and Fact-checking Information

Here is the third and final free preview in this series of WSI (Website Investigator) tutorials. The Fact Checking tutorial is a useful how-to for finding embedded info to evaluate.

Much has been said about information in a post-truth age. To some extent, truth is what you want to believe. However, there may be solid reasons to back up that belief, or none at all. When the information has value to pass along, it's a good idea to make sure the facts about it are consistent. Otherwise you risk looking like a fool, which unfortunately still has a tendency to mar one's reputation.

Consider an annual subscription to the entire Information Fluency site. All your students can access the WSI cases plus many more helpful resources for one calendar year. More info.