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S.U.R.E. Or Not?

Last Thursday was S.U.R.E. Day, an event held at the NLB to highlight a campaign for information literacy.

The key speaker, Dr Carl Schoonover (author of ‘Portraits of the Mind’), gave an enlightening talk about neuroscience, perception and evaluation. There was also sambal fishball, mee goreng, curry puffs catered.

What mrbrown and myself were quite deathly afraid of was that we had been engaged by a campaign whose objective was to tell people what the correct sources of information were. Thankfully, that was not the case.

S.U.R.E. stands for Source, Understand, Research, Evaluate. And as much as I dislike the forced forging of acronyms, the elements listed in the name sum up quite well what anyone would have to do to get reasonably informed about whatever issue it is they come across.

This is timely because of the flux the media landscape is currently in, especially in Singapore. People are no longer captive to the hegemony of authorized print and online media, and are a lot more suspicious these days of whatever gahmen say.

But with all manner of monkeys (including mrbrown and myself) being able to publish anything we feel like, you need figure out what’s worth reading, what’s worth investigating further and what is merely Terribly Rubbishy S**t.

Take a look at the S.U.R.E. site to learn more. There is also a nice example I will now use to illustrate a point:

 

Well-loved meh?

Well-loved meh?

 

So, Steven Chia was one of the speakers on the panel at S.U.R.E. Day, and his byline reads “well-loved Channel NewsAsia producer and presenter”.

You need to question the content at this point: Who is Steven well-loved by?

I mean, he’s a nice guy, I like him a lot. But I can’t say I loooove  him. I’m S.U.R.E. they probably mean he’s well loved by his wife and kids, and I have nothing against that.

But how many of you can tell me right now, that you really love Steven Chia to the point where you can write a byline that says “well-loved Channel NewsAsia producer and presenter” and use it to mean that many members of the public love him?

I too, have been guilty of not practicing the elements of S.U.R.E. – do you know how hard it is to type capitalized and punctuated acronyms? – and I have on more than one occasion, clicked the share or retweet button without actually reading the linked article thoroughly.

Sometimes, a sensationalist headline can make one trigger/button-happy, and that’s not good if you end up disseminating false, inaccurate information. In much the same way traditional papers try to ramp up circulation with tantalizing headlines, online publishers try to do the same, knowing you’ll be more likely to take a look at what’s been produced.

I remember a New Paper front page headline (written by a friend of mine) from 20 years ago that read “Monster from Deep Beneath The Earth” with scant details except a blurry picture of dug up mud. It was only if you snuck a peek inside or if you bought a copy that you’d find out that it was a story about a farmer’s world record potato.

With the advent of “social” sharing – had it been an online article – you’d have been tempted to click “like” or click through, making the potato story more visible and passed through the timelines of your friends and perhaps the public who are your audience.

If you live by publishing content, like mrbrown and myself, there’s this thing called credibility that we’re always concerned with despite the fact that we also write a lot of nonsense for a living. The more inaccurate or biased information we disseminate, the less credible we’ll be, and the fewer followers we’ll end up having.

I think that’s a pretty good reason for having declining viewership/readership of mainstream media too.

One of the points Dr Schoonover raised was that as a scientist, you question everything, and over time you become good at figuring out what’s more right and less likely wrong. A bit like peeling off the layers of a kueh lapis to get at the truth, hor?

Find out more about information literacy and S.U.R.E. here: Facebook & S.U.R.E. Site

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