Everything you know is wrong – er, derived from a few official sources

Josh Marshall reposts an interesting letter from Terry McDermott, author of a book about 9/11. His last paragraph:

The craft of reporting as it is practiced in the United States doesn’t really exist in much of the world. Britain, Germany, Spain do something that approaches what we do, but they are heavily reliant on official sources. There is relatively little knock-on-1,000 doors sort of reporting that I or Larry Wright did in these countries. There is no tradition at all of doing this within the Arab world (in large part because if you do it, you go to jail). Pakistan has a vigorous press, but its vigor derives largely from presenting different political views, not independently-derived sets of facts.

It’s rarely discussed how much of the data that the world relies on is both bad and also poorly scrutinized.  Take your credit report. There’s no real incentive for Experian to enforce strict quality control on its data – and so credit reports can often contain information that’s outright false . And yet major social institutions are being built on this rickety foundation; some employers take Experian at its word and think twice about giving people jobs if Experian says they’re credit risks.

With the vast scale of data we have these days comes a tremendous amount of imprecision. It’s hard enough to just make sense out of the information we have. How much mental energy do we have left to question whether the information we have is even any good?

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