Historian’s Method for Current Events

A couple years ago my class was gathering up shortly after news of a disaster and the teacher put it to us of how we can use our skills as historians to analyze the news. I posited that it helped teach me not to follow the news too closely. Instead of pouring over details as quickly as they can be published, and I don’t need to remind everyone how fast that is today, I prefer to wait for more reliable information.

One of the biggest problems is people becoming invested in a version of events directly contradicted by solid evidence. An old saying is that the problem with Americans is not that they don’t know enough it’s that they know far too much of what just ain’t so. In the 90’s when Diana Spencer (Diana Princess of Wales while she was married to Prince Charles) died in a vehicle collision the first word out was that the car was going around 120mph, I doubted that right away since she had actually lived awhile after the crash, and one man in the car survived, and that after they hit a concrete pillar. Some weeks later it was confirmed that they were doing about half the speed originally reported, and yet the first figure even still gets bandied around.

While I’m on that subject here’s a link to a great comedy skit making fun of the Princess Diana conspiracy theories: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4meFC1ee7Q

A more recent story with a similar effect from the first and loudest words out was the George Zimmerman case where many outlets still claim he could not be charged because of Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law when the police never sighted that, or course in that case I think there is a political agenda to the repeated claims about that law.

It can take a couple weeks for decent and reliable information to come out about an event, and it is far better to wait for that than to obsess over the latest tidbits.

Webpages can be much worse as they trend increasingly towards click bait, the content might only weakly suggest their title or might if looked at closely actually refute it, but that doesn’t matter since they already got the clicks they were after. For example why are so many articles fronted by a picture of Kate Upton, because she draws clicks from perverts like me. A good example was an article I saw awhile ago about facial features that detailed how feminine features (in this case defined as less developed) were considered more attractive in the industrialized world and stronger (more developed) features were considered more attractive in poorer countries; but, really the evidence presented was more of people minding a less developed facial bone structure in richer countries than an actual preference in favor of the opposite. Kate Upton, and models in general, was actually a terrible choice since some of the particular traits listed, like a weak jawline, were actually well developed on her face. She was the front piece and the header picture because she draws clicks, and I am using her as an example in a futile effort to draw some to my blog here. And so on that note: Iphone 6, Frozen, Bella Thorne, Minecraft, Ebola, Firefly sequel, Scientology, South Park, Barack Obama is secretly Elvis Presley.