Fri, 06 Feb 2009

Authoritative sources, independent sources and fact checking

An individual wanted to learn details of the Chiefs of Defence Staff. He went to the authoritative source and sent a freedom of information request to the MOD. This week, the MOD responded by suggesting that Wikipedia is the most authoritative source of information on its staff - the mind boggles:

- there is an accurate list of the information you requested on Wikipedia at the following link:

This week saw the announcement of FactCheck UK:

Monday 9th February is the launch date for FactCheck UK, a new blogger-driven project that aims to pull together some of the best talent from the British blogosphere and subject the veracity of Britain's politicians and mainstream media to some much needed independent scrutiny.

This is a welcome initiative if it manages to have enough good quality coverage. It is all too common for news media to misunderstand the data they base their articles on. As sources are often not made explicit it can be difficult to check the accuracy of the information when it's unclear or you suspect something may be wrong. I've shown some of these issues in one of my articles about National DNA Database statistics. Often the main issue is finding authoritative sources.

FactCheck UK would benefit from extending its scope to scrutinise blogs with a news and/or political agenda as well; and possibly welcoming non bloggers as contributors too. In the echo chamber of the blogosphere a story originating in one blog is repeated in others and then considered true as it has multiple sources. Few journalists have the time to ensure that at least two sources for the same story are independent... and a meme is created.

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