Sam Wineburg’s Twitter Thread About Wikipedia

Some great stuff here from Sam Wineburg:

8 thoughts on “Sam Wineburg’s Twitter Thread About Wikipedia

  1. I’m reading Norm Eisen’s terrific book “The Last Palace,” about the history of Czechoslovakia. It intersperses the history of the now-American embassy, which was built as a great palace built by a Jewish businessman before his family fled the Nazis, and his family, which came from a village where many Jews were wiped out by the Holocaust.

    Anyway, one of the striking things is how after WWII, the country was taken over by Russia, in part due to Truman’s reluctance to defend it at the end of the war and the reluctance of the US military to stay there and protect it.

    Just like now, one of the tactics the Russians used to destabilize the populace and gain influence was to spread disinformation and make people unable to distinguish truth, or actively promote untruths.

    Of course fact-checking is never perfect, but to disparage the idea of fact-checking leads us down a dark road that we’ve seen before. It hasn’t turned out well in the last and it won’t in the future.


  2. John: Is it your opinion that fact-checking, as practiced by the main stream media in the political sphere (note that very specific context), is always above reproach? Subject to no justifiable criticism? Always methodologically sound? And that anyone who challenges it — to wit: frequently it is not neutral, not empirically rigorous, and often is inherently politicized — is thereby offending anyone engaged in it, up to and including your history students?

    If so, fine. We disagree.

    Is it further your belief that what Wineburg was explaining automatically applies to all self-proclaimed fact-checkers? That all are skillful, knowledgeable and discerning when it comes to differentiating between reliable and unreliable source materials? That all are engaged in evaluating objective facts, as opposed to refereeing subjective policy disputes? How could Wineburg possibly know this? Just as in any profession, there are those who do it well, and those who do not; those who are fair, and those who are not; those who do not allow preconceived agendas to override a bedrock commitment to impartiality and truth-seeking, and those who do. It is my belief, indeed my direct observation — based upon reading and evaluating many purported fact checks — that this process at places like the NYT, the WaPo, Politico, Vox and similar venues is all too frequently (and intentionally) tainted by political bias. And in all respects, the exact same political bias.

    That doesn’t mean there aren’t many honest, careful, assiduously apolitical fact checkers at work. Nor does it mean that it’s not a valuable and necessary process, when done properly. But that’s not always the case.

    If you are going to define disparagement as any general critique of fact-checking as currently practiced by large swaths of the MSM — so, effectively, ruling out of bounds anything other than thumbs-up affirmation that the process and everyone engaged in it are unimpeachable — well then, guilty as charged, I suppose.


  3. So, let me understand: the profession of fact-checking is above reproach, is never used for political purposes, and my opinion — based on having read and analyzed many such fact checks — that it often has a clear, ideological slant is offensive? Fair enough. Methinks thou protesteth too much. I would also hope that some of your history majors — none of whom I’ve remotely addressed in my comment — if they happen to read this blog, would be able to disagree with my general opinion about fact-checking as practiced by the media, without taking personal affront.


  4. I find this disparaging to folks who do this for a living and are committed to it. Frankly, I hope some of my history majors, who are trained in digging-up facts, verifying sources, and detecting bias are not reading this. You have taken Wineburg’s argument about how fact-checkers work and you politicized it.


  5. John: I recognize there are lots of people who now do this for a living. I’m sure many of them take it seriously and attempt to do a rigorous, unbiased job. But the reality is — particularly in the political arena — that this has become a cottage industry within the MSM, and there is no special expertise, training or other credentials required. Other than declaring oneself a fact-checker.

    Moreover, from what I have observed, often these so-called “fact checks” are less about facts, and far more about scoring partisan points. The usual formulation goes something like … “While this statement is technically true … we’d now like to add some additional “context” which supports our competing world view, so we can label it false.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a purported “fact-check” which, upon even cursory inspection, turns out to be an ideological disagreement over contested opinions masquerading as an objective debunking of factual assertions. The WaPo, among others, has mastered this art form.

    Self-proclaimed fact checkers hold no particular moral or intellectual authority, and in many cases have a clear agenda which has very little to do with sifting facts from falsehoods.


  6. This is a legitimate profession, Tony. I don’t understand why you would disparage this position. I actually know at least one person in the church where you serve as an elder who do this for a living.


  7. Sounds like you just have to know how to use Wikipedia properly.
    Not as the be-all and end-all, but as a starting point for references and links to source documents.


  8. “Professional fact checker.”

    This designation carries as much weight — and requires as much education and training — as declaring oneself a “Professional Cheesecake Taster” or a “Professional Argument Decider.”


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