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Fake or Credible? Navigating the News

A guide to responsible news consumption, created and updated by Stevens librarians

EVIDENCE CRITERIA

Articles consistently identify sources for information with names and/or links, and sources are credible, appropriate, and multiple. All reported facts, unless widely known, are verified with sources. It is also clear that reporting reflects skeptical pursuit of knowledge, not just relaying source information at face value. Facts are not cherry-picked to support a particular point.

“When your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.”

--Chicago City News Service advice to young reporters

EVALUATING SOURCES

Sources of evidence should be:

Named and specific.  Though early in an article sources might be generic (scientists), they should be named somewhere later in the article. If sources are anonymous, reasons for anonymity should be provided and should be substantive. (e.g.: "the source, wishing to remain unnamed for fear of reprisal, said that...")

Numerous. If there is only one source, then the journalist has not really found sufficient confirmation to run the story.

Appropriate. "Man on the street" eyewitnesses are appropriate when personal experience is called for. People who are involved directly in an investigation can provide crucial perspectives. Experts are useful when expert testimony is necessary. (See "Source Types," below.)

Real. Fake news sources simply invent real-sounding people and organizations. When in doubt, Google names. "Citizen journalist" sources (like redstate.com or dailykos.com) and blogs very often use newspaper articles as sources. In that case, read (and share) the original news articles, not the derivative blog entry.

Represented Accurately. That is, quotes are complete and not taken out of context. Paraphrases are accurate. Statistics are represented accurately, not in misleading charts.

WSJ SOURCES

Below, sources in the Wall Street Journal article are highlighted and bolded.  How did the journalist likely gather each piece of information?

Before 2014, when the U.S. Geological Survey, Southern California Earthquake Center and California Geological Survey conducted their updated forecast to show the possibility of a single statewide quake, seismologists didn't think an earthquake could occur along such a long portion of the San Andreas.

That is because sections of the fault in the northern and southern parts of the state are locked in place as pressure from plate movement builds. The portion of the fault in Central California creeps along almost imperceptibly, they say, providing a slow release of some of that pressure.

Some of California's largest earthquakes have rocked Southern California and Northern California,where seismic pressure has built up the most.

In the 2014 study, researchers determined a quake that starts at either end of the San Andreas could ripple along its length—producing a rupture extending hundreds of miles, such as the 9.0 temblor that devastated Tohoku, Japan, in 2011.

"Scientists weren't really sure if you could have a rupture through the creeping section of the San Andreas," said Morgan Page, a USGS research geophysicist who participated in the 2014 study. "Now we think it's not very probable, but it is possible."

RED FLAG NEWS SOURCES

Let’s start by discussing the historic earthquake that just hit the Solomon Islands. According to the Washington Post, it was originally determined to be a magnitude 8.0 earthquake before being downgraded to a 7.8…

A massive earthquake erupted along a fault line near the Solomon Islands in the southwest Pacific Ocean on Thursday. The quake was originally detected as a magnitude-8 by the U.S. Geological Service, but has since been reduced to a 7.8 on the Moment-Magnitude scale.

It was followed by a 5.5-magnitude quake, and aftershocks continue to roll through.

Subsequently, that earthquake was followed by 20 extremely large aftershocks that all fell into a range between magnitude 4.8 and magnitude 6.5. All of this violent seismic activity seems to have shook the entire planet to at least some degree, because monitoring stations all over the world were experiencing strange “vibrations” as aftershock after aftershock shook the Solomon Islands.

Prior to all of this shaking in the Solomon Islands, a magnitude 6.5 earthquake off the coast of California rattled residents of Humboldt County.

Fortunately the quake was far enough offshore that not a lot of damage was done, but it is being reported that those living in the region could feel the ground rolling*…

Bonnie Brower, owner of the Ferndale Pie Company, told The Associated Press she was grabbing something from the fridge in the restaurant’s kitchen when the quake happened. She didn’t see any damage, but said says felt a “big jolt.”

“I just felt this very huge jerk and I didn’t know what it was,” Brower said to The AP. Afterward, it felt like the ground was rolling, “like you were on a boat.”

*This phrase is linked to a CBS Local story from San Francisco. 

 

 

SO, IS CALIFORNIA DOOMED?

The 30-year estimated probability of a major quake has gone from 3.4% to 7%. This change is cause for concern and planning, but hardly cause for alarm. Note that this story in the Wall Street Journal isn't "fake," but the headlines do overstate the content, which is that insurers are updating actuarial tables for slightly increased long-term risk. Suppose the headline had said:

Study Increases 30-Year Major Earthquake Risk by 3.6%

Would you have read the article?