Browsing artists' quotes the other day, I read this:
Most children instinctively draw objects from the viewpoint that gives the most information. They draw a house from the front, but a truck from the side.
To read that seems like it's sensible. But part of that is fact and part of that is opinion. I don't agree that they draw this way from the viewpoint that gives the most information. It's the viewpoint from which children see these objects. It would be a problem, for example, if children usually saw trucks from the front. Then they wouldn't live to draw a picture of the truck later.
As I read de Bono's "Six Thinking Hats," it strikes me that every journalist should read this book - particularly the white hat section, which is what it is to relate unadulterated fact. As an example, de Bono gives this dialogue:
... There is a rising trend in the number of women smoking cigars.
... That is not a fact.
... It is. I have the figures right here.
... What your figures show is that for each of the last three years the number of women smoking cigars has risen above the level for the previous year.
... Isn't that a trend?
... It could be. But that is an interpretation. To me a trend suggests something that is happening and will continue to happen. The figures are the fact. It may be that women are smoking more cigars because they are smoking more anyway - possibly due to increased anxiety. Or it may be simply be that over the last three years cigarmakers spent an unusual amount of money persuading women to smoke cigars. The first is a trend that could provide opportunities. The second is much less of an opportunity.
... I simply used the word trend to describe rising figures.
... That may be a fair use of the word trend, but there is the other use with the implication of an ongoing process. So it might be better to use pure white hat thinking and to say: "For the last three years the figures show an increase in the number of women smoking cigars." Then we can discuss what this means and what it may due to.
It's fairly difficult to pull fact from our instinctive conclusions. Many right now are deducing that the exacerbated hurricane season is due to global warming, but scientists are showing instead that this increase in activity is a normal and cyclical process. What are the facts? If in fact journalists were trained in and excelled at simply conveying the facts without inflationary language and conclusions, I could call journalism a profession.
In events like Katrina, I think the media does a great job at simply conveying the facts at first because that's all that there is and they come in such a huge volume that just reporting what is there is overwhelming. But within a few days, attempts to find meaning and propose trends will surface. People will be grasping at solutions (the government should fix this/prevent this!) and finger-pointing will start (it's the mayor's fault/George Bush's fault/the people's fault for not getting out of there). I had someone ask me yesterday why some didn't leave the area in advance of the storm. I know that in a few cases people stayed to be with their pets. In more cases, people simply didn't have the means to leave - no car, no money, etc. Some are even starting to ask if New Orleans should even be rebuilt.
But instead of all that, it would be great if we could just help those affected get through it. Let them decide what they want to do with their lives in the aftermath of this.
Glenn Reynolds has a bunch of links to aid the victims. Everyone should give something. They need help. No conclusion necessary other than that.