Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Reporting things out of context

My class is called Research Methods. I didn't think that grad students would have to take a class about how to write a research paper, but in my major, they do. So, I dutifully comply. As I have been doing my research, I've noticed that: a) a surprising number of publications state facts without citing their sources. For in my research, "facts" are not good enough until I have traced their origin, drilled down to the original data set, to ensure that nothing was taken out of context. Because I have also noticed that: b) a surprising amount of data is taken out of context or misinterpreted to meet the reporters needs. No, I didn't just notice that today. Everyone knows to take all charts, graphs, etc with a grain of salt. It's best to take just about every story with a grain of salt. My mom used to tell 2 stories that are a good example of taking things out of context.

She would tell anyone who would listen, that I was such an unobservant child that I would walk into the kitchen and say things like: "Where's the oven?", or "Did you put any wallpaper up?" when any idiot could see that an entire wall had been done.

She told these stories for years, dozens of times. As a teenager, I finally stopped her. "Mom," I said, "You're not telling the whole story." She just looked at me blankly.

Little Heather was trying to learn the difference between the words "oven" and "stove". "Where's the oven?" I said. "Is it the whole appliance? Or just the part inside?" (I paraphrase what Little Heather must have said.)

And regarding "missing" an entire wall of wallpaper. She always failed to mention that I was not actually in the kitchen at the time I asked the question. I had just walked into the dining room, and did not have a view of the kitchen wall from where I was standing, attempting to make conversation.

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