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  • Writer's pictureChristensen

Corruptible Reputable Sources

Shhhh… Don’t tell my students!

But I don’t fully trust reputable sources.

I teach academic writing at one of the top universities here in South Korea, and I try to gently push my students towards using reputable sources for their research. Most if not all have never done a research paper, and so they are unfamiliar with trying to find facts from expert sources. In fact, they really cannot tell the difference between a blog and a journal (a slight exaggeration). They just weren’t taught this before in high school, so I don’t blame them.

Yet, I find myself these days becoming skeptical of “reliable sources” – namely news sources. I have found so many examples of not just shoddy journalism but out-right inaccurate reporting. Possibly, there are reasons why these news sources have locked onto stories that don’t truly paint the picture of what is happening here in South Korea. As well, possibly, I am myself corrupted by my own biases to see how accurate they actually are.

Here is an example. There was an article in Bloomberg with the headline: “Nearly 80% of South Koreans Say They Trust Kim Jong Un”. [1] I did a double-take. Really? Even Time ran with this article along with some other smaller news sources.

If this is accurate, then that means at least one student of mine should agree with this statement. I have over 130 students this term, and I asked this of maybe four of my six classes. Not one student agreed with this finding. In fact, they were vehemently against the idea of trusting the North Korean leader. They kept mentioning how North Korea has broken every promise from before (which is not accurate but a perception here in South Korea). From what they told me and what I have personally experienced, the sentiment here in South Korea is an optimism about what possibly might come from these peace talks, but a strong distrust of North Korea.

In other words, many people here are 30% sure a peace treat will be signed, and this makes skeptical but optimistic. Other people are not that optimistic at all. In fact, my wife and I saw protests against the peace process! Though, as one friend pointed out, I am getting my view on the Korean public from a very thin slice, so I could have bad data.

But what is clear: where are these Koreans who trust Kim Jongeun? I have yet to meet one, and so that should indicate that there are not 78% of Koreans who have come to trust the leader up north.

And that is how it tends to be. A lot of news, including some really reliable sources, present this picture of Korea that sometimes doesn’t jive with the reality that I am experiencing with my own “boots on the ground”. Many of us foreigners, expats…immigrants…roll our eyes when we see how Americans react to what is happening here. The news feed that seems to be feeding the American public with facts about South Korea seems to be distorting the facts at least a little bit in favor of a sensational story.

Last weekend, as the euphoria of the peace talks between President Moon and Kim Jongeun was still swirling around, a protest against the peace summit was marching down the streets of Seoul. Some of my friends not in the country were trying to convince me that there were people here crying in joy about the historical event.[2]

That's not what I saw. I saw protests against it (video above).

I get it. Drama sells.

Though, it makes me question how much of the news is colored in such a way to highlight the drama. How much can we trust the news reporting? As well, we learn how scientists were paid to hide the fact that sugar, not fat, leads to obesity.[3] So, even the coloring is really a distortion of the truth for money.

Sometimes, journalism and scientists are for sell.

Recently, I read an article in a newspaper here (to remain unnamed because of the horrendous libel laws that could get me sued…that’s another rant). The “article” said that a store here in Seoul has started selling shellfish that supposedly fights against air pollution. Ummm… It is more likely those shellfish are contaminated! But the gimmick will sell shellfish, and the newspaper will probably get a cut for its ad disguised as unbiased reporting.

Can we trust scientists and journalists?

As I told my wife, individual scientists and journalists might be corruptible, but we still need to trust the unbiased nature of science that is used to uncover the truth.

So, I’m not saying there is a conspiracy of “fake news”.

And we should try to do due diligence in investigating and comparing sources, even reputable sources. And hope we get closer and closer to the truth as we do so.

I hope.

I hope we can see a bit clearly in the end.

Can you do me a favor, though? Please don’t tell my students about my own doubts about reputable sources. I don’t want to open that can of worms.




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