Thursday, December 01, 2011

A Lesson In Finding Out Stuff

One of the many frustrations of this particular hobby is the presence of folks who consistently say things that boil down to the following: Where do you get your information? This past spring, in a discussion elsewhere, I made the observation that the median household income was around $50,000. A fellow commenter wrote that he did not believe that was the actual figure (I do not remember if he thought it was lower or higher; I just recall that he contested the figure). Now, as someone who pays attention to things like this, I had seen that figure bandied about for a while, but I decided to check it out for myself by going to the Census Bureau's website and looking it up for myself, and sure enough, there it was. So, I provided the link.

In this particular instance, the person in question routinely wonders where I find the information I use, how I go about finding it, questions the sources I use, blah-blah-blah. The last one I cannot help; like the extreme skeptic in Descartes who questions even his own existence, at some point the questioning itself becomes absurd. Matters of fact are just that, and whether they come from The National Review or The Nation, they are what they are.

Today, I had the misfortune of reading a column by George Will. From the headline, I figured it would become a subject of discussion during the next day or so, and reading it now is a good way of preventing me feeling stupid when other people are talking about it. The column, concerning a potential Supreme Court case regarding affirmative action, includes links to two amicus briefs. Will is also kind enough to provide the names of the people who have submitted the briefs. Since I had not heard of these people, I sought to learn who they were, if they'd ever written anything relevant, or otherwise accessible, and check it out for myself.

I opened a new tab in Windows, and pressed the "Home" button on my toolbar. My homepage is a personalized Google search box.

I realize that some people just wonder where all this stuff comes from, all this information, all these facts, all this access to all these crazy things called writings and articles and such. Since Google is so easy to use, and since pretty much anyone can use it, though, continuing in ignorance on any topic, or questioning a factual claim without checking it out for oneself, or seeking background information or past, relevant, information on individuals whose names appear in the news or on the Web is more a sign of laziness than anything else.

Each of these words is a link to the Google search results for the names in Will's article. How anyone wishes to proceed from here is up to them.

I do hope the implications of this lesson are clear. If you have a question about anything, no matter what it is, you can do this, too. Go to Google. Type in the word or phrase that troubles you. Press enter. Voila! The only thing you have to do now is sift through the results for what seems relevant. For that, you need judgment, discernment, and a willingness to be challenged and deal with contradiction and ambiguity as you sift the various matters Google provides for you. Getting going, though . . . that's easy.

I highly recommend this approach for anyone who wishes to find out stuff. You don't believe a claim someone has made, regarding a matter of fact, or a quote from someone? Google. It's that simple.

Virtual Tin Cup

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