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Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Satire

When Swift wrote his "Modest proposal", little did he know what he was starting. Today, there are many satire web sites, and some of them are quite funny. I don't think that  the Onion  is much good, but it's very popular, so a lot of people must disagree with me.

The problem happens when a satire site is quoted without the context. And so it isn't at all obvious that it's satire. And when that happens, you can see people taking the anti-fact on board (an anti-fact is something that a satire makes up and pretends, for the sake of satire, is a fact, but you know it isn't a fact because it's satire. Unless you didn't know it's satire).

Here's a recent example

This article was posted by someone on Facebook, and there followed a discussion in which no-one seemed to have noticed that the article quoted was satirical.

Critical thinking, folks. If you read just the headline "Smoking in public before 8 p.m. to be illegal starting July 1" then you might take it as real, unless you think critically and ask yourself "Is this likely to be true?" followed by a rather easy piece of research (i.e., read the rest of the article) which confirms "No, it isn't true, it's satire".

And, by the way, here's another useful aid to critical thinking.

Can a $2.50 gadget extend alkaline battery life by 800%?

This is a real product, being covered by a non-satirical web site. But the giveaway is the question mark in the headline. Betteridge's law of headlines; any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.

What's happening here, is that the author of the article knows perfectly well that the story is bullshit. But he still wants to run the article, and by framing it as a question, he isn't actually telling a lie.

And by the way, it's a real product, and useful, and will extend battery life by maybe 20% or 30%.

2 comments:

  1. I first saw that article on MacWorld's website - which I had considered to be a reputable publication - it was written by the Editor of PCWorld in all seriousness (and didn't have the "?" in its title). It almost made me check that the date wasn't April 1st. So... someone who should know better or a lazy journo who took the claims at face value?

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  2. Journos don't check facts. What probably happened, is they got a press release and regurgitated it.

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