Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

News Source vs. Content

  1. Aug 4, 2005 #1
    Kat originall made an interesting observation and asked the following question.

    I created this thread to explore her thought rather than derail the thread where it was posted.

    Apologies Kat if you think this unwarranted:

    I would really have to question the content of the report rather than the source.

    Many people have used the words ad hominem here in the last few weeks. Would you say attacking a source because of where it is located rather than the basis of what is included is something akin?

    Being stuck in China, I have problems linking to the BBC. Often, I am forced to do links to sites that may re-print the BBC article I am seeking to quote and yet I have had people refuse to even look at the work becuse of the 'source'.

    I saw here within the last few weeks sombody refuse to follow a link based on the fact that it was a 'liberal' site but when I followed the link, it was to an article with an AP byline.

    Lately, my philosophy has become, 'Okay, does this link contain anything I can refute with either common sense or contrary evidence' rather than 'Oh, look where it's from, it must be tainted.'

    As a case in point, there is often a lot of information regarding the statistics on how many people have been 'killed by communism' in China. I did a search and found out that the 'general numbers' that most people use come from 'The Black Book of Communism', originally written in French and translated by the Harvard Press which seems to give it credence.

    I found information on the Maoist International Movement website that proves the 'numbers' in the 'Black Book of Communism' regarding China to be wrong by a factor of 10.

    If I link to that with http://www.etext.org/Politics/MIM/agitation/blackbook/blackb3.html [Broken] , do you immediately refuse to go there and see what is there?

    It may be interesting if you DO go because they display the emails exchanged with the Harvard translator of the book who states the American printers of the translation did not understand the european sign for per thousand and printed per 100 relative to the number of deaths over a period of time.

    Most sites printing the statistics have not been changed and still quote the old numbers.

    If I say for example there were '68 deaths per humdred' or '68 deaths per 1000', there is a vast difference in the result, wouldn't you agree?

    There are also problems with the numbers produced by the second most quoted source, Roderick MacFarquhar in the Oxford Press http://www.etext.org/Politics/MIM/bookstore/books/china/macfarquhar.html [Broken].

    Even I hate the steriotypical 'commie jargon' of this site but I find it hard to refute what is being said when they provide admissions from authors and translators that the data they have published IS admitted to be wrong.

    So, do we dismiss out of hand any 'site' (which now seems to be a modified version of 'ad hominem') over the facts or opinions contained therein?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 4, 2005 #2


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    TSM, I understand what you are saying. Major news sources, for example are more accountable for the content, because of credibility and liability. Though some are known for bias, it is still better than, say, a web site that is privately maintained for purposes of bias. So, yes, I feel the source is important as well as the content. And the source should reference it's sources to be reputable as well.
  4. Aug 4, 2005 #3
    I generally try to cross referance anything I read with other articles. Very often the detail that I would prefer is glossed over in most mainstream articles so I hunt down more detailed versions. In some cases I try to go to the source such as my recent research into the Civilian Casualties in Iraq numbers. In that case numbers were widely published in the mainstream media out of context without much clarification on their source.
    In more local type news there tends to be quite a bit of spin. On another forum there was an article posted about a girl who was arrested for defending herself against bullies. She was made out to be an innocent victim. Then you read other stories and find out that she chucked a two pound rock at the head of a boy two years her junior sending him to the hospital for stitches because he and some friends were pestering her and her friends with water balloons. They had a point that she was mistreated by the police but at the same time they made it sound like the little boy who went to the hospital was just a big bad bully who got his comeupens. Again this was mainstream media.
    I'm rambling...
    At any rate... I question all sources and there content and there are probably sites that I would consider more questionable than others.
  5. Aug 5, 2005 #4
    I am fully aware of how propaganda works and try to remain vigilant, not that I always succeed. Content and clarity are more important to me than the source.

    Here is a good example of misleading propaganda from a major mainstream news source.


    Read the headline and you would conclude that John Roberts is a gay rights activist. Read the article and you must conclude that the headline is quite misleading.

    As we skim through our newspaper over coffee we might get a distorted view if we only read the headlines. I believe that the intent of the paper here is to mislead the gay community into believing Roberts is something he is not.
  6. Aug 5, 2005 #5
    Why is that article being published at all? It happened 9 years ago! That's not news, that's history.
  7. Aug 5, 2005 #6
    Good question.

    Why do you think the San Francisco Chronicle would publish an article with a headline that reads;


    Could it be that there are a few gay people in SF?
  8. Aug 5, 2005 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    The content is most important, with the actual source data being the best content. The source of the data is vitally important.

    Any news story merely reporting on some type of data or event is subject to at least some skepticism. Even mainstream media tends to apply some spin to the data by the way they present it (remember how pictures of Katherine Harris evolved into Cruella DeVille during Florida 2000?). The spin applied by a lot of strongly partisan sites is barely tolerable, unless it's the only source of the data.

    Which leads to the next issue with the source. If a highly partisan site is the only site that has this data, that data is pretty suspect. You can be certain data reported by your established mainstream sources, such as AP, Reuters, CBS, et al, are reliable (well, okay, almost certain - you can't trust anyone completely, now a days. :frown: )

    At best, highly partisan sites can provide something that raises good questions - but I'd tend to rely on more established sources to provide the answer to those questions.

    Edit: I also wanted to add that data from a reliable source is most important. The conclusion of the reader may not match the conclusion of the person that collected the data. I remember one thread where the validity of data from a DoD website was disputed. Most likely, a contractor was given x amount of dollars, collected as much data as x amount of dollars could gather, and was left with a loser task. Nothing much could be determined from his data, but he had to put something around the data so it didn't look like a total waste of money. The data was valid, but the report interpreting the data was poor quality, which at least one viewer naively assumed the report must be from a bogus source - the DoD would never waste money on such garbage. :rofl:
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2005
  9. Aug 5, 2005 #8


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I'll agree with that....
    And that.

    ...and Bob's entire post.

    So the main thing I would say here is that the credibility of the source is what determines how important the cross-check is.

    For example, while they may be biased, I trust the mainstream media when it comes to the reporting of facts because they are accountable for those facts and I know that if they screw up badly, heads will roll for it (see: 60 Minutes/Dan Rather). No such oversight exists for independent news sources.
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2005
  10. Aug 5, 2005 #9
    Just as an observation ...

    The highly 'dubious' MIM site disproved books translated and published by Harvard and Oxford.

    I don't think we should lose sight of that.

    One thing seems immediately apparent ... Maybe the 'reputation' of that site is responsible for it not being quoted by the 'legitimate sites' or posted in mainstream media.

    I remember the outright GLEE of the mainstream media reporting the number of people 'killed by Mao' when the book was first published. (The Black Book of Communism) And now I look in amazement at the apathy in correcting the error.

    Roderick MacFarquha's book has been 'THE' source for 30 years.

    There is even a petition on the MIM web site to get an Errata published.

    This is akin to finding out that the Holocost deniers are 'right'.

    I have even seen China condemned based on this faulty evidence on this site, the numbers have just become so mainstream and accepted.
  11. Aug 6, 2005 #10
    It seems to me that in matters political (and also scientific, when the scientific is highly politicised - eg. issues about global warming and weapons research and development), people do choose what sources of information they decide to give enough credence to to even read. Even if they do, occasionally, deign to read references from sites they ideologically disagree with, they do not seem to allow whatever evidence is presented to affect their attitudes and beliefs; they read with the agenda of arguing against whatever evidence is being presented.

    How many times, for instance, have members in this forum admitted to being wrong (or modified their views) on the basis of having read new evidence? Instead, what seems to happen is a lot of 'ego' stuff, where people argue their point despite sometimes overwhelming evidence that points to the contrary. It boils down to ideology, in my opinion - which makes intelligent discussion impossible, of course. This is very unfortunate, in my opinion, as we seem to be living at a time when we really, really need to think about what's happening and explore viable and non-destructive ways to solve the pressing problems of environmental degradation, the ever-increasing scarcity of energy resources, climate change, etc.
  12. Aug 7, 2005 #11


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    While I understand the desire for correct numbers, is killing 10 million people not still condemnable?
  13. Aug 7, 2005 #12
    I'm not sure what numbers we are to trust here, loseyourname.

    Whose data do you want to accept?

    I posted this on another thread:

    So now, can you quote another source of the number of people killed in China other than the ones derrived from Roderick MacFarquhar and The Black Book of Communism both of which have been proven to present false data?
  14. Aug 7, 2005 #13


    User Avatar

    The source is pretty much irrelevent if it is providing facts if these facts can be ascertained elsewhere. It is only editorial comments, opinions, unattributed quotes and unsubstantiated 'facts' that are suspect and that applies to main stream media as well.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 7, 2005
  15. Aug 7, 2005 #14
    So, basically their death rate was completely regular? and we have nothing that we can condemn them for at all?
  16. Aug 7, 2005 #15


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Well, one problem I have with the "mainstream" media is that they too often all rely on a single source for their information. For example, AP or Reuters will put out a story, and it will be read verbatim on every major news network. That every network is reporting the same thing doesn't make it more credible or provide verification of the facts, it just shows they all got their information from the same source. If there was a major factual error in that report, how would you know? I tend to judge a story based on the sources cited. Every news story has to report where they got their information from, be it interviews with eyewitnesses or court documents. When sources are suspiciously lacking, I question the credibility of a story. Also, if only one side of a story is presented (such as a partisan issue with only Republicans or only Democrats interviewed, but not both), then I question the bias.
  17. Aug 7, 2005 #16
    They were condemned based on the information in Roderick MacFarquha's book.

    So how many died?

    Here are the other stats and their various sources:


    Now, whle I commend the author of the above list for his footnotes, I do find it strange that there is a section under 'Analysis' where they take the data presented and come up with a median.

    The data presented ranges from the low hundreds of thousands.

    The data is also representative of deaths in some cases and 'loss of potential population' in others and then that strange computation ... "Democide".

    Surely, when you have such divergent numbers, you don't average them together!? You declare the ones that are incorrect to be WRONG and seek out the truth.

    What I am seeing here is an attempt to grasp the worst case so that 'The Red Menace' has a point of attack.

    So who do you believe?

    One thing is for sure ... there is a real number out there and all of the above are merely educated guesses. If those guesses range from a couple of million to 70 million just what right does anyone have to condemn them on amounts that are clearly unknown?

    Are we saying "Where there's smoke, there's fire"?

    I have a friend here, Liu Qing who spent time in 're-education' as an intellectual in 1962. (Sentenced to 5 years but commuted to 2) He laughs when he reads these stats.

    He also spits on Mao's portrait when he gets a chance.
  18. Aug 7, 2005 #17


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Your biggest error:
    No, there isn't a "real number" out there - at least not an absolutely correct number that can ever be found. That's the way history works some times - it simply isn't possible to know for sure. Educated guesses are the best we have.

    A close second:
    The right comes from the fact that even the lowest of the number is unacceptable to people willing to consider any number unacceptable. Are you saying you would consider "a couple of million" a number unworthy of condemnation?

    And while The Great Leap Forward happened behind an iron curtain (thus preventing full international investigation, OTHER EVENTS occurred live and in color on TV. Again, the number of deaths will never be known, but what is known is there were deaths. And that makes it worthy of condemnation.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2005
  19. Aug 7, 2005 #18
    a 'couple of million' people died in the US last year too. (2,443,387 to be exact, according to NCHS). People die, we can't stop that. The question is wether or not they were excessively violent and caused the immediate untimely deaths of (a large number of) people as a direct result of the great leap forward. We cannot prove that, so we cannot condemn them for that.
  20. Aug 7, 2005 #19

    Name a country that you can't do this with.

    Maybe you want me to start pointing fingers?

    Yup, where there's smoke, there's fire.
  21. Aug 7, 2005 #20
    Most of the numbers don't actually take into consideration the fact there was a drought in the years following the Great Leap and that the numbers during the Great Leap showed an improvement in the figures.

    None have offered an explanation of this data.

    The Chinese HAVE taken census' before and after this time too.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook