Re: Credibility of the Internet (was: User-centered design)

Subject: Re: Credibility of the Internet (was: User-centered design)
From: Steven Feldberg <steven -at- ICU -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 9 Feb 1999 10:30:44 -0500

Tracy wrote:
> If you mean only posting things you *know* to be true -- well, I'm sure
> every person who posted that info "knew" it was true.

No, of course I don't mean posting only things one literally *knows* to be
true (besides, such talk opens up lines of discussion that wind up citing
Hume and Kant--don't want to go there!), there's always some degree of doubt
(or should be).

> So it does no good to point out they should have done so when clearly they
> *would* have if they hadn't been so sure their information was reliable.

I agree with you. I would not presume to point out what someone should have
done in a particular post. Frankly, it's not my place to do so. Here's what
I said: "I'm not picking on anyone. I'm really not. I would just suggest
that in the warm rush to contribute and help others via this list, that we
all treat assertions of fact with respect and due diligence."

The statement that Donald Norman invented Notes may have been the result of
100% certainty. Fine, post away. *But let's all take a lesson from that
erroneous posting.*

> Obviously everyone on this list can (and, IME, generally *does*) use an
> appropriate disclaimer when they're not *entirely* sure of something.

(Which is one of the reasons for its continued value and high credibility.)
Listen, if you're 100% sure of something and feel the need to post it--here
or anywhere--then go for it. I'm not saying not to. Two points though (and
these apply to tech writing):
1) Question everything--in my experience as a tech writer and newspaper
reporter, there are precious few circumstances in which one can be 100% sure
of *anything* without verifying ("trust but verify" :)
2) That having been said, 100% certainty is rarely necessary. But different
degrees of certainty apply to different situations. As communicators, we
need to develop the skills/instincts/filtering to know when it's okay to go
with, say, a 50% certainty as opposed to a 95% certainty. And how to
accommodate varying degrees of certainty in our info representations.

> Right there on the screen it says "this is based on a true
> story." So later, when someone rhetorically wonders where the Coen
> brothers get their ideas for movies, would you say "I read it was based
> on a true story, but that might not be true?" Or would you, secure in
> your knowledge, say, "Oh, it's based on a true story." It turns out it's
> not true... the statement was a mood-setter or joke, depending on who
> you ask. But if you knew in your heart it was true, would *you* tell
> people it "might" be true?

Interesting example. Clearly the Internet isn't the only info source that
can mislead :)
But since you asked, *I* would say "The movie's supposedly based on a true

/Steven Feldberg
Feldberg Communications
steven -at- icu -dot- com

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