Do Fact Checkers Still Exist? (Updated)
Gregory Johnsen, a former Fulbright Fellow in Yemen, is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. Johnsen has written for a variety of publications on Yemen including, among others, Foreign Policy, The American Interest, The Independent, The Boston Globe, and The National. He is the co-founder of Waq al-Waq: Islam and Insurgency in Yemen Blog. In 2009, he was a member of the USAID's conflict assessment team for Yemen.
I've never understood people - usually much more important than me - who have their research assistants draft their op-eds before they polish and print them.
But still when I saw this op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor the other day I couldn't believe that it had passed both RAND's and the CSM's internal reviews. The op-ed by Aidan Kirby Winn is about Guantanamo and, like much of what gets printed on the subject, is full of errors.
Much of the piece, I'll leave to others more qualified than I to comment, but the Yemen section is full of mistakes. Why if this subject is as important as most people think - and I agree - can't they take the time to do a simple Google search? (That really isn't rhetorical.)
Take for instance:
"Yemen has developed a rehabilitation program modeled on Saudi Arabia's, but so far it has yet to work as well. The escape of 13 Al Qaeda suspects from a Yemeni prison in 2006 undermines confidence in the country's ability to secure dangerous inmates if the US were to send them home.
Al Qaeda has a growing presence in Yemen, underscored by the attack last September on the US Embassy – an attack in which Shihri's involvement is suspected. A brutal murder of three foreign aid workers occurred just this month, bearing the hallmarks of Al Qaeda. An infusion of battle-tested jihadists back into that nation could further embolden the movement."
And finally, the only people who believe al-Shihri was involved in the September 2008 US Embassy attack are those that have a firm and unshakable belief in the magical realism of Rushdie or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. (Al-Shihri can't be in two places at once - he wasn't in Yemen - and he doesn't have a history of not taking credit for attacks that he was involved in - the recent kidnappings is still an open question in my mind.)
In all fairness, this last mistake is one that keeps getting reprinted in a variety of places so even a Google search wouldn't have helped, one would actually need to read the Arabic of some interviews in Saudi papers and Sada al-Malahim.
There is surely a lot of room for differing opinions on what to do with Guantanamo - and I differ strongly from Winn's that Saudi is the best place for the Yemeni detainees - but certainly all of us, no matter our opinions, must start from what is known. And in this case, certain facts are known, and we should be very careful to get them correct before reaching conclusions, instead of allowing conclusions to shape and shade our presentation of what is known.
Update: In retrospect, I may have come across as a bit harsh in this post - not my intention. I just meant to suggest that on this particular subject, which is particularly sensitive to mistaken facts and information, one should be particularly careful with what one writes. Especially when presenting it as fact. The subject of Yemen and Guantanamo is difficult enough without confusing rumor and suggestion with fact.
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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