Whew, what a week. For my east coast readers, I hope you’re getting powered and gassed and somewhat back to normal after the storm.
The only good thing to come out of last week was that Sandy pushed election news from the top of my news reader. I’ve grown weary of Presidential candidates promising me the moon and giving me cheese instead, or not even giving me cheese depending on who wins. Here’s hoping that Wednesday morning it’ll be all over and we won’t have to hear about any Presidential campaign speeches for at least three months, when the campaigning for 2016 starts.
Speaking of politics, I ran across a story about some Seattle librarians fact-checking political statements on a Washington state politics website. The story opens with the claim that “nine Seattle librarians are doing something tough, unprecedented and very risky.”
Is any of that true?
If you consider fact checking to be nothing more than trying to find answers to questions, it’s neither tough nor unprecedented. That’s what reference librarians do, only I guess there are a lot of people who don’t know that. And risky?
The reporter writes that the librarians evaluate claims as to whether they’re accurate, inaccurate, or unverifiable, and then adds that “Sometimes, it’s not that simple.”
She gives as an example a claim that “some studies suggest children raised by families with both genders do better than those from a same sex parentage,” which the librarian had called accurate, but misleading, since there are other studies that show the opposite and yet other studies that show no difference. That seems pretty simple to me.
I guess it’s supposed to be risky because when it comes to politics, people are averse to any evidence that doesn’t support what they already believe, so that if anti-gay marriage folks see that there’s evidence contrary to what they think, they might then distrust the librarians providing it, and then maybe…I don’t know what…not ask librarians reference questions or something.
Maybe those folks would later vote against funding libraries, but they might do that anyway. People who get angry or upset that other people don’t automatically agree with them probably aren’t big users of libraries anyway.
Or is it risky just because it might tarnish the image of librarians as neutral information providers? Librarians claim to be neutral, or at least that they try to be neutral, but neutrality means different things to different people. Reporting only the facts isn’t considered neutral by people who don’t like those facts.
Would the people who are totally incapable of neutrality or even seeing more than one side in an argument believe in librarian neutrality anyway? For those people, people who disagree with them are just in a conspiracy against the truth, of which they are in sole possession.
Look at the studies about the effect of same-sex couple on children. What difference do they make? It’s not like the opposition to same-sex marriage is motivated by science. No one has ever honestly said, “oh, I was totally in favor of same-sex marriage until I read a study saying it was bad for the children.”
For this particular issue, the opposition isn’t motivated by science, either. It’s not like two men or two women who are in love and want to marry each other are doing so because they read some studies about how beneficial marriage was. On this issue, it’s all about culture, religion, and equal rights.
Though I applaud the efforts of librarians to do what they can for the cause of evidence-based politics, I fear that it’s too late for that. Checking facts assumes people care about facts, but in politics they don’t. People don’t choose their politics to fit the facts, they choose the facts that fit their politics.
And that’s not just the ordinary simpletons that make up the bulk of the electorate; it’s everyone. One of Romney’s pollsters responded to accusations that some political ads were just plain lying by saying, “we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”
Some people, presumably Democrats, were outraged by the statement, but the main thing that distinguishes that pollster from others of his ilk is an occasional public outburst of honesty.
A study mentioned here “found that between April 10 and September 20 of this year, roughly a third of the money spent by third parties on television advertising–27.8% to be exact–went to spots that were deceptive.” And that’s from both parties, so no matter who you support you’ve got people lying on your behalf. That’s a form of neutrality, I guess.
FactCheck.org has a list of “the biggest falsehoods from the presidential campaign,” and there are a lot of whoppers from both major candidates, some misleading, some flat out wrong, and some just weird to boot (where did that Chrysler to China thing come from?).
And you know what? Nobody cares. I’d be willing to wager a shiny new nickel that nobody in America looks at a fact checking website like that and decides who to vote for based on who tells the fewest lies. They vote for the candidate whose lies support what they already believe.
Bravo for librarians who try to wade into the sea of lies known as politics, but it won’t help. We don’t vote based on facts, even librarians. Election Day tomorrow will be a load of fact-free fun for everyone but the losers.