In my doctoral program, I learned a valuable lesson that impacts how I process information shared with me. Early in the program, one of my professor’s emphasized the importance of checking the facts in order to do quality research. He required that we go to the original source. Surely, if an article was published in a peer reviewed journal, it was accurate. But my professor insisted that regardless of the publication, it was necessary to personally check the original source because subsequent authors’ interpretation may not be consistent with the original work. This lesson has proven to be beneficial over the years and even more necessary in today’s reality. If you want the facts, then it is important that information shared is complete and accurate.
Here are some of the reasons “why” information unchecked may be inaccurate and/or incomplete.
- Multiple people repeating information without checking and verifying the information can lead to inaccuracies. Do you remember the childhood game, ‘gossip?’ The message was inevitably distorted by the time the last person shared what had been communicated. What about errors that also occur when written information is touched by multiple people? The likelihood of errors increases when people re-enter information and do not take the time to verify it.
- Misinterpretation is sometimes based upon our personal filters and can be costly in both time and resources. Here’s a personal example. As my first semester in graduate school was coming to a close and in preparation for my trip home for the holidays, I asked my mother what kind of weather I could expect. She said the weather man had just broadcast that it was going to be “cold.” I was disappointed because after barely surviving my first winter in Michigan, I was hoping for Florida warmth. When I arrived, the weather wasn’t what I had expected. It was in the 60’s and I had brought all my ‘winter clothes.’ In Florida, 60 is cold to Floridians. But that doesn’t equate to 100% wool clothing, which is what I was wearing in Michigan. Now, with the wrong clothes in my bags, we had to go shopping. This meant spending time and dollars purchasing clothes that I would not be wearing once I got back to Michigan.
- Incomplete information can lead to different conclusions. Just this morning, I received my Diversity Inc. magazine and was surprised when I read the headline- “U.S. Income Surges, but Women, Minorities Remain Behind.” Last night on the news, the headline was “U.S. Income Surges.” So why the different headlines? Upon reading the article and examining the data, it was apparent that median incomes had increased across all racial groups; however, when you examined the specific income amounts, regardless of the increase, there were still disparities with the greatest being among Black households. Depending upon the headline, different conclusions are drawn.
To fact check, try these 4 tips.
- Always go to the original source
- Ask questions to make sure you and the person sharing the information are using the same reference. (If I had just asked my mother- “what will the temperature be?”)
- Don’t just accept the facts without making comparisons
- Identify the filters that are being used to present the information
CAUTION: Due to the internet and social media platforms, we are able to easily access and share information. Don’t be a contributor of increasing the number of people who are misinformed. Make sure that you don’t share information without fact-checking.