If you are old enough to read my words, you are experienced enough, I hope, to know that reading is not necessarily believing. My familiar exhortation to “test” truth claims applies to more than just creation controversies. Though I have been inclined to think that “beware of newsprint” goes without saying, I have been confronted recently with indications that I do need to say it.
RTB constituents often send me clippings about which they have questions or concerns. Some I am able to respond to on the radio, but not all. One of those I missed responding to during the Christmas season serves as a glaring example of articles to ignore, “The Star of Bethlehem Shines Again.” I mention it here because so many people asked about it and because it exemplifies so many violations of journalistic credibility. Let me suggest a short list of questions for judging this (or any) article’s merit:
- Does the author’s name appear with the article? If not, don’t bother to read the piece. If so, does the article offer a way to check the credentials of the author?
- Are the experts cited really “experts” whose credentials can be checked? In addition to citing names, the article must also indicate degrees earned (if appropriate), from what institutions, and subsequent relevant work experience.
- Does the article include testable and plausible details? The “Star” article referred to data from the Hubble Telescope but gave no reference to a published source. It also claimed that its astronomy “expert” was a front runner for a Nobel Prize. How could the author know that? (By the way, astronomy is not a Nobel Prize category.) How could an Earth-bound astronomer, even with the help of the Hubble, know about an exploded star days before its light reaches Earth? This claim represents a physical impossibility.
The credibility of the newspaper or magazine itself must also be taken into account. Do not expect to find a genuinely important, accurately reported news item in a publication known for sensationalism.
Because the world tends to view us Christians as gullible, naïve, and subjective, we have a special responsibility to guard against embracing and disseminating false information. Let’s work together on this task and, in doing so, enhance our opportunities for effective outreach.
Sincerely in Christ,