My oldest child is almost four years old. I love this age because his imaginative play is in full swing and he is becoming a great story teller. I can also give him nonsensical answers to questions that I don’t know the answer to, or when I don’t think he is capable of handling the answer, and he will believe every word I say.
As an example “why is the sky blue?” can be answered as simply as “that’s what color daddy wanted it to be.” It’s a much simpler answer than having to get into a conversation about light refraction, molecules and color theory. My son would accept that Daddy wanted the sky blue and go on his merry way of sending his toy dinosaurs to Jupiter, which by the way is the silverware drawer. A more complex question has to be answered with a lie sometimes. We recently had the following conversation and it almost turned disastrous:
Son: Where do chicken nuggets come from?
Son: (Worried look) the ones on the farm? (Starting to get panicky)
Me: No, not those chickens, different ones.
Son: Oh, ok! (and continued eating)
I don’t know when I will have the heart to break it to him that yes his chicken nuggets are in fact from the same chickens that live on farms, but not today because I can barely get him to eat anything as it is.
As children get older they start to learn how to distinguish fact from fiction. They know that shows like Curious George and Martha Speaks are make-believe. They will also know when they are being lied to by their peers. This is a natural part of growing up. Most people have little to no problem with this natural progression.
Adults are trickier than kids, though. We bend truths to get our ways (like I did with my son in telling him that his chicken nuggets came from different chickens. I just wanted him to eat and to avoid a meltdown). We commit every fallacy in the book to come up with answers to meet our own personal needs. This is fine individually; however, when done en masse it could have major consequences, like when Andrew Wakefield published a study on how vaccines cause autism. The study has been debunked, but parents still are afraid to get their children vaccinated against life threatening diseases.
People in general are trusting of one another, except perhaps conspiracy theorists, so not everyone takes time to check the facts of something their best friend told them. How do you know if what you read on the internet is true? Nobody has time to fact check everything, but if all your friends are posting the same meme it must be true. Chances are, though, it’s wrong. Facebook is in deep water right now for allowing fake news sites to influence what people see and read.
The telephone game we play as children showcases how a simple message can change from person to person and when it reaches the last person it no longer resembles the original message. This is why we should take everything with a grain of salt and if something doesn’t sound quite right then it should be fact checked. Snopes.com is a good source for debunking internet stories; however, maybe there should be a Snopes for Snopes, adding one more checked layer. Presidential debates are heavily fact checked, but how many people actually read the fact checking?
To add to the growing problem, scholars are being seen as falsifying information. Scholarly Kitchen wrote this article on how academics and scholars are under attack. It doesn’t help when people of influence are the ones doing the attacking and flat out denying science. William Hayes of the Los Angeles Rams believes that dinosaurs are a hoax and never existed. National Geographic published this article last year on why reasonable people don’t trust science. The conclusion is that people need to get better at finding answers to their questions because the questions are only going to become more complex.
How do you find answers? How do you fact check something? One place to start is with reputable news sources. Some lean a little left and some a little right, but you’re mostly going to get facts from the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. Your local library is another great resource to help you check facts and find answers. Reference librarians are trained to sort through all the information to give you the straight answers you’re looking for. So before you repost that article on how cooking with aluminum foil will give you Alzheimer’s, you might want to do a little research first.
Jennifer Crawford, MLIS
Marketing Librarian for Access Innovations, Inc.