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Bill Clinton Suggests Internet Fact Agency 336

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-true-i-read-it-on-the-internet dept.
eldavojohn writes "Friday on CNBC, Bill Clinton gave an interview that is causing some unrest on popular news sites today. When asked if there is a role for government in terms of ensuring that the information out there is accurate, he replied, 'Well, I think it would be a legitimate thing to do. ... If the government were involved, I think you'd have to do two things ... I think number one, you'd have to be totally transparent about where the money came from. And number two, you would have to make it independent. ... let's say the US did it; it would have to be an independent federal agency that no president could countermand or anything else because people wouldn't think you were just censoring the news and giving a different falsehood out. That is, it would be like, I don't know, National Public Radio or BBC or something like that, except it would have to be really independent and they would not express opinions, and their mandate would be narrowly confined to identifying relevant factual errors. And also, they would also have to have citations so that they could be checked in case they made a mistake.' His statements have elicited responses ranging from a Ministry of Truth a la 1984 to discussion of genuine concern about internet rumors and falsehoods."
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Bill Clinton Suggests Internet Fact Agency

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  • by Dr.Bob,DC (2076168) <drbobdc1970@gmail.com> on Monday May 16, 2011 @03:02PM (#36142844) Journal

    This is a superb idea, the internet is so full of half-truths and outright lies it makes my head spin.

    A prime example was the flood of pro-vaccine nonsense that was obviously spread by Big Pharma soon after Dr. Andrew Wakefield's brilliant research into vaccine-caused autism was all but shredded. Alternative medicine caregivers (homeopaths, chiropractors, naturopaths, accupuncurists, among others) have all been treating vaccine induced autism. WE'RE IN THE FRONT LINES! But some well placed lies soon spread as truth.

    How about another? The LIES that Chiropractic neck manipulation can cause strokes. How do they know? They don't! This LIE was conceived by BIG PHARMA. They sell all the OtC pain remedies to unsuspecting sheep. Neck (Cervical) manipulation has cured MILLIONS of people of chronic headaches, migraine, sinus blockages and other maladies that BIG PHARMA sells you drugs for.

    Sorry if this comes across as a rant, I'm only allowed to post two times a day. This is because of the BIG PHARMA drug pushers who constantly vote me down rather than have a proper, adult discussion with me.

    The sooner they get someone in power who can regulate the internet, not some fancy 'scientist', but a true medial professional, the better.

    Take care,
    Bob
    • by Jailbrekr (73837)

      *golf clap*

      Brilliant first post, Utterly brilliant.

    • by Tuidjy (321055)

      I know you are trolling, and I even crack a smile sometimes, but have you stopped and considered that there are people more credulous and less informed than what you expect? Even if one paranoid parent withholds vaccine from his child because of your crap, wouldn't it outweight the shits and giggles we got from it?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MaskedSlacker (911878)

        Even if one politician with a hard on for tyranny justifies his excesses because of your

        paranoid parent withholds vaccine from his child because of your crap

        crap, wouldn't it outweigh the shits and giggles we got from it?

        Or, more legibly, the 'even if it only saves one life it's worth it' argument is the biggest crock of shit in modern rhetoric.

        • by Tuidjy (321055)

          Hey, I did not appeal to the force of the law! Of course, what Dr.Bob DC is doing is legal. But morally, I don't think he should be doing it. No, we should not be jailing those saying what we do not like. But since when is it censorship to try to change their mind?!

          • But since when is it censorship to try to change their mind?!

            Did I accuse you of censorship? Did I say censorship? Anywhere?

            Hey, I did not appeal to the force of the law!

            *Goes back, reads own post* Nope, nothing about force of law either.

            Of course, what Dr.Bob DC is doing is legal. But morally, I don't think he should be doing it.

            And you reach that conclusion on the back of a 'if it saves even one life it's worth it' argument. Which is a crock of shit. Which is what I actually said. Lives are not of infinite value. There are many things that are not worth it even if it saves one life, a dozen lives, or a thousand lives.

            Even if one paranoid parent withholds vaccine from his child because of your crap, wouldn't it outweight the shits and giggles we got from it?

            To answer your rhetorical question in terms you can understand: No. It wouldn'

    • by _0xd0ad (1974778)

      Sorry if this comes across as a rant, I'm only allowed to post two times a day. This is because of the BIG PHARMA drug pushers who constantly vote me down rather than have a proper, adult discussion with me.

      No, it's because you come across as a rant and that's why you're voted down. That, and batshit crazy.

    • by pokerdad (1124121)
      I can understand Americans who are paranoid of the influence of Big Pharma because of just how much pull that industry has in your country. However, said industry does not have such a pull in most other countries.

      How is it you can write something off as just being Big Pharma manipulating the system, when every other country is also vaccinating?
    • Re:FANTASTIC idea! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by HungryHobo (1314109) on Monday May 16, 2011 @03:59PM (#36143540)

      I was going to mod this up as a masterful hilarious post but then I looked back at your post history and reaslised you may be serious.

      • by Snarky McButtface (1542357) on Monday May 16, 2011 @05:57PM (#36145752)

        He is a really good troll. Here are some quotes from previous posts:

        "...the more syllables in a chemical name, the more dangerous they are"

        "Earth used to be a nice, hospitable place until the invention of radioactivity."

        "I'm not sure how Chiropractors could detect subluxations in a robot..."

        "Chiropractic maintenance alignments and adjustments scored better on IQ tests."

        Chiropractors are quacks but they are educated.

  • by kenholm3 (1400969) on Monday May 16, 2011 @03:04PM (#36142862) Homepage Journal
    Bill Clinton didn't say this.
    • by Noughmad (1044096)

      Did he hold a presention just to say "I did not say this"?

      • by kenh (9056)

        I'm pretty sure he wagged his finger and spoke slowly, measuring the effect of every word when he said it - kinda like this [youtube.com]

    • Well, in one sense, I do suspect that people are treating him as saying something he did not. It sounds like he was talking about a hypothetical, government funded organization that researches and reports truthfulness of other reports by giving evidence and citations. He's not saying to use a government department to block anything regarded as "false". Does not seems much different than a highly constrained version of the BBC, CBC, ABC (Australian) and other government channels you don't have to pay attenti
    • Re:Just a rumor (Score:4, Informative)

      by jrj102 (87650) * on Monday May 16, 2011 @03:28PM (#36143154) Homepage

      Bill Clinton didn't say this.

      Actually, I heard a brief clip of the interview on the radio this morning-- it was his voice. He did say this.

      That being said, he didn't suggest it-- he was asked if there was a role, and he went off on a hypothetical about IF you were to do it, you'd have to have these safeguards in place. He was not saying that it was something that we should do.

    • by Dunega (901960)
      That all depends on what the definition of "this" is.
  • Here's my own attempt at something like this, focusing specifically on scientific fact-checking:

    Science Rumors [sciencerumors.org]

    • by SilasMortimer (1612867) <pandarsson@gmail.com> on Monday May 16, 2011 @03:26PM (#36143122) Journal
      I've yet to check out your site, but will. As I've yet to judge how successful you are at your mission, I can only say I appreciate that you're trying.

      For politics, there's also FactCheck.org [factcheck.org].

      The trouble is that you have to approach these grains-of-salt sites and the like with a grain of salt. The idea of a "fact agency" sounds very tempting as a quick fix, and I'm certain that if such a thing were created, it would do wonders at the beginning. But once there's a fair amount of public trust in it, that's when the potential for abuse becomes great.

      Nothing will ever eclipse thorough research and hard questioning.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Instead of changing people's minds to think that the "fact" isn't true, It would be easier for the government agency to change the world so that the fact becomes true.

    • This might just be the most baffling comment I've ever read on Slashdot. Which is pretty damned impressive. Kudos.
      • It's only baffling if your mind is still a prisoner to the Matrix. For GP, you just edit reality.xml and reload.

        • It's only baffling if your mind is still a prisoner to the Matrix.

          Or if I'm part of the Borg Collective? Or if I'm body-snatched? Or if I've drunk the water? Or some other science fiction metaphor that's handy to throw about until you have to explain why you're using it?

          Surprised you didn't use the word "sheeple".

  • Waste, Again (Score:5, Insightful)

    by omb (759389) on Monday May 16, 2011 @03:10PM (#36142928)
    Quite apart from all the other good reasons why this is a BAD idea, it is another way to wase money a broke country dosn't have.
    • Re:Waste, Again (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bfields (66644) on Monday May 16, 2011 @04:10PM (#36143674) Homepage

      Quite apart from all the other good reasons why this is a BAD idea, it is another way to wase money a broke country dosn't have.

      First, the US is very far from broke. We have a huge national income [wikipedia.org], and (relative to our peers) choose to spend relatively little of it on taxes [wikipedia.org]. We could in theory go "broke" if we fail to raise revenues to cover growing health care costs and/or cut benefits to our aging population. Nobody (least of all the people putting their money where there mouths are and buying US debt) seems to think it's likely that we'll do neither, and thus default.

      Second, the proposal in question would require a trivial amount of money; factcheck.org [factcheck.org] and polifact.com [polifact.com], for example, already do this kind of work. I wonder what their budgets are--probably 6 or 7 figures? A government with a 13-figure budget could do contribute significantly to that kind of work with money that would amount to a rounding error. BBC news appears to be around 8 figures [bbc.co.uk], for a complete news organization with international coverage.

      Third, this hardly strikes me as a "waste". If we could better educate our voters with such a tiny fraction of our budget, that sounds like spending that could pay for itself.

  • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Monday May 16, 2011 @03:13PM (#36142956)

    Yes, obviously, there's the Ministry of Truth aspect to it. However, when I want to find out what the real deal is about the latest flu pandemic, you know where I go? cdc.gov. If I want to find out what the story is around the latest federal budget numbers, I go to cbo.gov. If I want raw country data, I go to cia.gov.

    There are already plenty of times where some numbers geeks are holed up in a government office, crunching numbers and nothing but numbers. Is there a risk of political influencing? Sure is. You just have to look at FEMA for one of the most egregious examples of political horse trading. But you can set up an organization in such a way as to minimize political influence.

    There are really three areas where I would like to see an official government agency providing a central information clearinghouse:
    * a history of political events (who said what, where and when)
    * a history of detailed public office budgets (down to who makes how much)
    * a general list of current hoaxes and misinformation. Think of it as Snopes done .gov style.

    Yes, all of that would obviously be done from the perspective of the government, and with associated biases and perspectives. But it would provide an easy place to get that kind of information, rather than having to trawl through countless soundbites presented by various other organizations.

    • by JBMcB (73720)

      Er, why do we need snopes.gov if we have snopes.com?

    • by mellon (7048)

      In 1984, the Ministry of Truth is a propaganda body. They do not provide citations. They do not check facts. They decide what the truth is to be. I totally agree with the points you've made, but I think it's worth noting that what's being discussed here is not related to the Ministry of Truth in 1984. The Ministry of Truth is more like how the Nazis did news, and also more like how various modern news organizations do news. What is being proposed is actually the opposite of the Ministry of Truth

      • Except that if it's a government agency and the government funds a lot of research (NSF, NIH, etc.), isn't the government already establishing what is factual? It's very easy to fund or not fund research that will likely say or not say what you want. Facts can also be established by perr-review, which sounds better than it is in practice (don't get me wrong, it's great for the most part but if you ever want to do or interpret something differently, it's really hard to get it past peer-review). Even though t
  • Seriously, all this would do is make an official version of something. The simple truth is, there are always multiple interpretation of things, all of which can be accurate. Take an historical example into consideration: the cause of the American Civil War. There are many different interpretations given for the start of the war, and all of them have numbers, figures, and documents to back up the theories. With complicated issues like that, how do you say which is more accurate? Different people can loo
    • by robot256 (1635039)

      What you are speculating on are theories, not facts. Such is the state of discourse that theories (like the causes of Autism) are not even our biggest problem any more--people just make up numbers and statements that are absolutely, provably false and expect people to believe them. This agency would be first and foremost charged with stating facts such as "the oil industry paid $91.5 billion in U.S. taxes in 2008" (citation [acta.us]), or "President Obama's birth certificate is valid according every relevant author

  • There are some things government can do. This is not one of them.

    The best thing the government can do to establish "facts" is to arbitrate disputes involving facts. We're already doing that. We have laws against libel and fraud. Enforce them. End of story.

    While it may be a tragedy that some people believe the president was born at an alien base in the African jungle, this doesn't rise to the level of fraud or libel. At least, it hasn't been put to the test AFAIK. Any attempts to outlaw fantasy masque

  • by scruffy (29773) on Monday May 16, 2011 @03:13PM (#36142968)
    1. Known knowns

    2. Known unknowns

    3. Unknown knowns

    4. Unknown unknowns
    • by clem (5683)

      What facts would you put in categories 3 and 4, given that they're unknown by their very nature? At best you could have 3. previously unknown knowns and 4. previously unknown unknowns.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by benjamindees (441808)

        What facts would you put in categories 3 and 4, given that they're unknown by their very nature?

        Easy, that's where we put the army of nuclear-powered Mooslim jihadi supermen living underground waiting to emerge and destroy our freedoms.

        At best you could have 3.

        You sound like a terrorist.

  • I think there will always be people who will believe anything they hear and never bother checking the facts even when it is available. These days it's a blog or a tweet; in times past it was over the fence or by telephone. I can't count how many tweets I've read recently about some celebrity's death only that it wasn't true. And these are people who don't believe in conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theory buffs never believe a government agency telling basic facts like water is wet.
  • One person's fact is another person's fiction. Information can be used in many ways to come to various conclusions. The right and the left can often see something completely different, and yet they both had the same "facts".

    What would the Fact Agency have concluded when Mr. Clinton stated that he did not have "sexual relations with that woman." Was he factually correct?
    • What would the Fact Agency have concluded when Mr. Clinton stated that he did not have "sexual relations with that woman." Was he factually correct?

      If they were doing their job, they would have concluded that drawing a conclusion as to the truthfulness of that statement is beyond the scope of their mission. All they would provide is the fact that Bill Clinton said, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." That's it. That would be their function.

      As another example, they would not say, "The Japanese instigated the war with the U.S. by bombing Pearl Harbor." Instead, they would say, "The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor." The former is a conclu

  • by wrightrocket (1664871) on Monday May 16, 2011 @03:20PM (#36143034)
    Bill Clinton talking about what the truth is! I guess it depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is... http://www.slate.com/id/1000162/ [slate.com]
  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Monday May 16, 2011 @03:29PM (#36143158)

    ...and in an appropriate way. Say some BS internet rumor gets started. An affected agency will often have a debunking website dedicated to the topic that browsers can easily access. Remember Compean and Ramos, the two border agents the anti-immigration crowd turned into heroes? The DoJ did a great point-by-point debunking [justice.gov] of the interwebz myths about their case. Didn't stop a Bush pardon, unfortunately.

  • In order for this to work. We will need all the facts who said what and when. Every data point of some statistics, what questions were asked and where. There are a lot of truths out there you can come up with many of them with some correct questions as many people are actually complex individuals you can bring up a lot of truths out there that arn't necessary true.
    Lets use Abortion as an example I hear from both sides and they say they are in the majority.
    Now the Anti-Abortion people will direct questions

  • by scubamage (727538) on Monday May 16, 2011 @03:33PM (#36143196)
    If implemented properly, with actual citations, I think it may be a neat idea. It'd be nice to see relevent facts displayed in context.
  • Flamebait all around (Score:5, Informative)

    by guspasho (941623) on Monday May 16, 2011 @03:33PM (#36143206)

    This whole story is flamebait. Clinton didn't make the suggestion, the interviewer did, and asked him to speculate on it. He isn't actually advocating for a ministry of truth, nor is he even in government anymore.

    • by guspasho (941623) on Monday May 16, 2011 @03:43PM (#36143320)

      Same poster as above. As a for example, why is no one complaining that the CEO of AGT is railing against anonymity? He is blatantly, but that's also taking his words out of context, and you know, he isn't Bill Clinton.

      The summary also conveniently left this out, "But if it's a government agency in a traditional sense, it would have no credibility whatever"

  • by CokeBear (16811) on Monday May 16, 2011 @03:35PM (#36143232) Journal

    Such an agency would be inherently biased, because as Stephen Colbert has taught us, the facts and reality have a liberal bias!

  • What is truly frightening is how many people (see comments above) are so willing to jump on this bandwagon. I'm sure some of it is people grasping at straws in hopes that "truthiness" will win but c'mon - this is politics and we ALL lose.

    Maybe Mr. Thompson can force Mr. Galt to "fix" that which is broken but I doubt it - not aas long as that force, no matter how benign, comes from "above"..

  • by lennier1 (264730) on Monday May 16, 2011 @03:44PM (#36143338)

    Take what's said by the government, invert it and you probably get something that's rather close to the truth.

  • This is literally a Ministry of Truth.
  • We already have Web organizations that do a pretty good job of cutting through BS -- Snopes.com and Factchecker.org to name two. The problem is not that we don't have objective arbiters of the truth, but that many people don't want anything other than confirmation of their existing biases and will label any group that doesn't do that as "biased" against their "truth."

    Having the government sponsor the Truth Police will not give it any more credibility and may just make it less credible depending on who does

  • This is one of those things the free market already provides, with the help of numerous news organizations. One of the more useful is Politifact [politifact.com], but there are plenty of others.

    Those who don't trust government sources of information won't trust this government agency any more than they trust the various government reports. And they shouldn't: The government source matters, but it should be corroborated by other sources.

  • We just need some real Journalists.

  • by PPH (736903) on Monday May 16, 2011 @04:10PM (#36143672)

    ... snopes.gov?

  • Our legislative, and executive bodies have no right to fact check anyones speech! Its a clear violation of the first and tenth amendments, and possibly the fourth depending on what happens as a result of being cited.

    There is already a process for fact checking the Internet. Which ever person or organization the facts are relevant to can respond with their own information. If the information is wrong and damages their reputation in some way they can sue for libel. That is why we have courts people!

    If an ag

  • The government is the worst when it comes to fact finding, checking and reporting. The government claims (in various AdCouncil ads) that cigarettes kill more people than AIDS, car wrecks, heart disease, and cancer combined. Their reasoning is that if you die of heart disease or cancer you may have died from cigarettes ergo you did die from cigarettes even if you had never even seen or smelt a cigarette in your life. And if cigarettes are so god damn deadly why don't they make them illegal? Oh that's righ
  • They are Wikipedia and National Statistics centers.
  • by rickb928 (945187) on Monday May 16, 2011 @05:17PM (#36145042) Homepage Journal

    "an independent federal agency that no president could countermand or anything else "

    That's funny until you realize he might just believe it, and then it's sad.

    And then you realize he really DOESN"T believe it, and it's sadder still.

    From Andrew Sullivan at theatlantic.com [theatlantic.com]

    "I covered the Clintons for eight years. The one thing I learned about them is that they lie. It's reflexive to them; after decades of the lying that tends to infect the households of addicts, they don't have a normal person's understanding of truth and falsehood."

    Well, he's either naive, or lying, when he claims there could even be something like 'an independent federal agency'. For that reason alone this is a dumb, bad, dangerous idea.

    Then there's the First Amendment.

  • by Hartree (191324) on Monday May 16, 2011 @05:41PM (#36145470)

    This is wonderful.

    It will revolutionize history research. We all know that data is moving more and more to the net. This will centralize it and provide quality control.

    You'll just have to consult the official site to determine what truly happened. No mucking about having to weigh the validity of original sources that might have been mistranslated, be biased, or were authored disengenuously to slander someone. No dealing with the vagaries, subjectivity and bother of gathering statements from witnesses to events before they pass away. The savings in travel and time for history, archeology, anthropology and related departments will be most welcome as they tend to be underfunded anyway. They won't have to waste so much time in futile debate over what really happened.

    One source and one truth to be written and taught in classrooms.

    What a remarkable idea.

    Think how easy it makes journalism as well. Why, they'll be able to cut even more of those expensive foreign correspondents that sit around waiting for news to happen.

    It certainly will help end the terrible partisanship we have in this country. People will all start from the same set of facts. Why, if we unify the deductive methods applied to them, we can avoid this terrible inefficiency of having people look at the same circumstances and come to different conclusions about it.

    Finally, the nation will have clarity rather than this messy confusion.

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