Sources Go With Facts

Edmund Hillary Reaches Summit

Today in History -- May 29, 1953: New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest on the Nepal-Tibet border. The duo reached the top of the world after a gruelling climb.
Today in History -- May 29, 1953: New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest on the Nepal-Tibet border. The duo reached the top of the world after a gruelling climb.

Pakistan Independence -- 1947

Transfer of power. Mountbatten and Nehru at the microphone; Edwina in front of her throne. Viceroy's House, 15 August 1947
Transfer of power. Mountbatten and Nehru at the microphone; Edwina in front of her throne. Viceroy's House, 15 August 1947

If I know something to be a fact, that's good enough for me.

Nevertheless, you can't just state a fact without fear of contradiction.

Often, when I state what to me is a fact, someone always wants to know: Where did you hear that?

Unfortunately, even though I'm sure I'm correct, that's not good enough for someone else!

How Do You Know?

If I tell someone that Columbus discovered America in 1492, and someone asks, "How do you know?," I'm stumped!

I'm sure one of my early teachers told me about Columbus -- or I read about his exploits in my history book in second or third grade in school. But I can't cite chapter and verse; all I can say is, "I'm sure I'm correct, but I can't tell you how I know it."

From time to time, The Hour (newspaper) runs a column called "Today in History" that features a variety of facts relating to a specific date in history. On Aug. 14, for instance, the column said that Pakistan became independent of British rule in 1947. As in all of the column's pronouncements, no attribution is given.

Thus, if someone asks me when Pakistan became independent of British rule, I can confidently declare, "On Aug. 14, 1947."

'I Read It In Today in History'

But, if you ask me the source of this great knowledge, I'm at a loss to give you an answer -- other than to say, "I read it in Today in History." Obviously, that will hardly do!

It so happens that I have a large reservoir of trivia for which I have no adequate source. In the event someone should question my source when I disclose any of this invaluable information, and insofar as I am unable to specify a reliable source, I plan to put the questioner on the defensive by declaring, confidently, "I read it in Today in History" -- even if that isn't true!

If the ploy doesn't work, so what?

It isn't always convenient to track down the source of a fact. For instance, I'll take Today in History and The Associated Press at their word about Pakistan. I really don't have the time and energy it would take to verify the date that Pakistan became independent just to satisfy some unknown, faceless, future questioner.

But the whole episode has given me a new appreciation of bare facts.

When Is a Fact a Bona Fide Fact?

Is a fact a fact just because I know it to be a fact? Or must I be able to certify it as a fact by citing someone other than myself as a source before it becomes a bona fide fact? To me, it's a fact, but I can't speak for you.

I'm not entirely anti-social so I have vowed to myself to make a new effort to learn the source of any "fact" I may stumble upon. Of course, there's no guarantee I can do it, but I'll try. If I fail, of course, I can always use the Today in History ruse.

The Importance of Sources

In truth I am a great believer in the importance of sources. Even before I studied journalism and public relations at New York University several decades ago, I learned about presenting facts objectively at the Army Information School and as a public information specialist with an infantry regiment in Heilbronn, Germany (1955-56). and in Fort Carson, Colo., (1957), where I also dabbled in news photography.

A fact certainly is a fact to me if I know it to be true. But if you state a fact to me, you'd better tell me your source if you expect me to give it any credence -- and don't try to tell me you read it in "Today in History!"

I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on Aug. 26, 1999. I now write my views on a wide variety of topics on HubPages. To view my HubPages Profile Click Here

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Today in History -- February 12 -- The Facts!

Fact -- Or Fiction? Where's Your Source?

More by this Author


Comments 28 comments

Constant Walker profile image

Constant Walker 8 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

Interesting hub, William. My family and I love debate historical "facts," necause we've realised that much of what we learned in history class is very often incorrect. For instance, The Vikings "discovered" this continent some 200 to 400 years before Columbus did.

I know have a very big disregard for anything I learned in school.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 8 years ago from California

I hear you man. WHen you get into arguments with people, that's often a chicken-sh!t way of getting out of have real counters is to question your sources. The thing is really in the nature of the argument. If it's a real argument, on paper, and you value your point to be taken as true for some important reason, then you do need to cite your sources. But if it's just, you know "two guys talking" or an opinion piece on hubpages... finding sources of reasonably common information takes the fun out of it. I gues it just matters how sharp your want or need your point to be.

Interesting hub, glad you wrote it.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thanks, Constant Walker. I love history, too. We were taught that Columbus discovered America, too, but, at the same time, we learned about the Vikings. In this world, one has to take everything with a grain of salt. Or, maybe, a whole tablespoon.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I see your experience mirrors mine, Shadesbreath. Our current political discourse, however, is riddled with so much misinformation that I've come to understand that much of what is argued is made out of whole cloth (from the other side of the argument, not mine.) I appreciate your comment.


ColdWarBaby 8 years ago

I appreciate this one William. I like facts and facts aren't facts unless they're verifiable.

Of course we now have the WWW. Even so it's often necessary to double or triple check. Still, I feel reasonably confident of getting to the earliest known source of any given piece of information if I’m willing to spend a little time. Even so, regardless of how much verification you find, there are those who simply won’t accept anything that doesn’t fit into their own personal definition of reality. Some people still think the world is flat, or so I’ve been told.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I wish I had the WWW available to me when I wrote these columns, ColdWarBaby, but, while we used computers for word processing, only the computer room had access to the Web. Even now I stumble through the maze. You mean the world isn't flat?


B.T. Evilpants profile image

B.T. Evilpants 8 years ago from Hell, MI


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

You learn something new every day, Evilpants. Thanks for the link.


B.T. Evilpants profile image

B.T. Evilpants 8 years ago from Hell, MI

I doubt if they cite credible sources. I've only just begun to check them out.


sixtyorso profile image

sixtyorso 8 years ago from South Africa

Very interesting hub and very true. I, like you, have a vast store of knowledge which I know to be true (this is a function of our respectives ages!. However, simply stating it does not make any more true. Nevertheless, one can always express it as an opinion and leave it to some else to query. I was born in 1947 so I know that Pakistan got it's independence. However if you state something on the web you will be guarranted that someone will look it up on Wikepedia or Google and challenge you on that fact.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independence_Day_(Pak...


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I scanned the site, Evilpants, and I'm looking forward to reading it more thoroughly when I come back from the golf course today. I'm sure their sources are impeccable.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

When I was writing for the newspaper, sixtyorso, I was often said to be opinionated. I always told my critics, however, that I am not opinionated, I merely make "observations." That ussually threw them off.


Chef Jeff profile image

Chef Jeff 8 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

I do get a kick out of the grade school mentality of many people I know who have read one book, and that defines the extent of their knowledge about the entire world. they remind me of the 42 year old former H.S. footballplayer who forever retells the story of the touchdown he made, and that one event defines his life.

In the movie Educating Rita I watched with humour as poor Rita slowly discovered that for every thing she learned, many new questions were asked, and many more doubts about previously held ideas and thoughts would come into her life. Each pinnacle of learning she reached somehow left her hungry for more.

I find that there a lot of people, for example, who use only the Bible as their sole reference for life, and while I respect anyone who can read the entire Bible and make sense of it, basing one's life on just that one book does not make sense to me.

Just as some people use MAD magazine as their sole point of reference, or The Daily Show, I have to laugh because a little knowledge can, indeed, be a dangerous thing, especially when one refuses to take the next step and learn more.

I guess we all may not be like Rita and discover that learning one thing opens up new horizons and vistas - if you allow it to do so!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 8 years ago from California

Sixty, Wikipedia is like that box of See's Candy you get every year for Christmas, while some of what you find is fantastic, some of them are just so bad you can't figure out how anyone approved that.  The only difference is, at least with Wikipedia, if you're really motivated, you can rewrite the damn things and make them better.  We're going to be stuck with that disgusting chocolate cherry bomb thing forever, not to mention that three layers thing with the peanuts and ... what is that second layer, marble?

lol

Anyway, my point is verifying anything with Google or Wikipedia is about as convincing to me as is verifying it with a hubpages source. If it ain't a peer reviewed respectable source, might as well just be an opinion.


Chef Jeff profile image

Chef Jeff 8 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

By the way, I think it was the Native Americans, before they were called so, who actually "discovered" the Americas, as we call them today. So there, smarty pants! LOL!!!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 8 years ago from California

Hah, Chef, I wrote a hub on that very thing.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Interesting discussion, Chef Jeff and Shadesbreath. It seems that once people decide that they know the facts, you can rarely change their opinions no matter how what you say or do. It's sort of like a Democrat trying to change a Republican's mind, or vice versa. Republicans have their "facts," Democrats have their "facts," and never the twain shall meet.


usguide profile image

usguide 8 years ago from California

Nicely done.


sixtyorso profile image

sixtyorso 8 years ago from South Africa

Well to digress Native Americans were called Indians by Christopher Columbus as he thought he was in India. he was trying to circumnavigate the globe and reach the east Indies by travelling West.

Shades you got my point about Google and Wikipedia excatly. They tend to be anecdotal sources too. In other words just opinions. The truth is unfortunately that perception becomes the new truth. Say it often enough and people star to believe you.

Bill Clinton "i did not have sexual relations with that woman" or some such words.

I agree peer review and "respectable" peer review forums are the best.


Chef Jeff profile image

Chef Jeff 8 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

Sixtyorso, we all know it was the OTHER woman! LOL!!!


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thank you, usguide. I appreciate your comment.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Clinton was right! Here's what dictionary.com says:

—Idiom 8.to have sex, to engage in sexual intercourse.

The whole point of the episode is that the question never should have come up in the first place. It was just more right wing garbage.


compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 8 years ago from London UK

Another great read William!! and that a fact!!


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I like your facts, compu-smart. Thanks.


Dutch Hermit profile image

Dutch Hermit 6 years ago from Utrecht

Great hub. It is good to keep in mind with all we read that it could as well be not true. And even the sources might be misinformed. I guess it keeps us humble in our own perception of truth. Certainly in our work as journalists it is important to always make clear what our sources are and try to discover the truth as much as possible.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 6 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thanks for commenting,Dutch Hermit. When we use sources, readers can make up their own minds whether they trust the honesty and motives of that source. That's all we can do. Without citing a source, the information comes directly from the writer. The it's the writer's veracity that must be evaluated.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Genealogists go round and round about what constitutes "factual". Supposedly rock-solid, official records have been proven inaccurate, same for eye-witness accounts recorded at the time an event took place. Used to be photos and news footage didn't lie, but we now know those too can be altered. Ultimately, it falls on the reader or researcher to look at as many sources as possible and then form his/her own opinion what's true. Sadly, too few people do so these days and simply believe whatever they're told without analyzing the integrity of the source.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 5 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Well said, JamaGenee. The only way we have to evaluate what is true is by making a judgment about the source. If no source is given, it is unwise, indeed, to take a statement as truth. It certainly is true, however, that too many people believe whatever they hear on radio or TV without evaluating the source. Unfortunately, when lies are repeated often enough, many people tend to believe them. I think that's a major source of the trouble we see today in America.

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