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Fact-Checking 101: Read Widely

December 16th, 2016 by Chris Strauber

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Fact-Checking

Fact-checking is hard, but it is almost impossible to assess statements or stories you know nothing about. That’s part of what propagandists play on. There isn’t really any substitute for being broadly informed. What follows is some discussion of what I suggest.


  1. Read widely.
  2. Read more than you watch or listen. TV, video, and radio are usually limited in scope to what looks good/sounds good, and also because most people can read much more than they can see/hear in a given amount of time.
  3. Read outside your Overton Window. Lots of things European and Asian governments do would be unthinkable in the US…and vice versa. Having a frame of reference external to whatever political or social conversation you’re fact-checking helps you decide what’s really outrageous and what isn’t.
  4. Make sure that you’re seeing things you disagree with or are puzzled by daily.

News sources at Tufts

Newspapers work differently in libraryland for a variety of not very interesting reasons, mostly related to money. We don’t usually have access to the newspaper’s website, instead we get them through databases which are mostly designed for search rather than browsing.

Option 1: Web for discovery, library for delivery

As with journal articles, the easiest way to find out if we have something when you hit a paywall is to do a search in Jumbosearch. Be aware that the title of the article sometimes changes a little between the website and the various editions of the paper.

Option 2: Search for discovery

If you’re looking to do comparative analysis of how stories are covered across sources, you’ll want to use one of our newspaper databases.

Lexis-Nexis and Factiva are large collections of mostly English-language newspapers. They’re designed to allow you to readily compare coverage from paper to paper and region to region. Lexis-Nexis also includes transcripts of television and radio network broadcasts.

Tufts also has access to the Boston Globe, The New York Times, Washington Post and LA Times are findable in Lexis-Nexis. For conservative British coverage, you might try the Economist. If you’re looking for less mainstream news coverage, you can try Alt Press Watch or Ethnic News Watch, which focus on smaller publications.

Fact-checking 101: Check the sources

December 15th, 2016 by Chris Strauber

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Fact-Checking

As a librarian and citizen and concerned human I have spent a lot of the last year consuming news in a variety of formats, online and off. In the aftermath of the election I have some thoughts on tools and approaches I take to making sense of it, and to making sure what I’m reading makes sense. This is part 1 in a multi-part series. First: what to fact-check.

There’s a lot of discussion of “fake news” since the election. It’s not fake news, it’s propaganda. Fact-checking propaganda is usually a waste of time, and making opponents waste their time and energy trying to disprove things often serves the propagandist’s purpose. Another tactic is to flood the airwaves with so much nonsense that it’s impossible to have a conversation about certain topics, like climate change. Zeynep Tufekci, a professor at the University of North Carolina, points out this is a form of censorship. There is also the pragmatic point that people receptive to conspiracy theories are not often receptive to fact-checking.

Don’t try to fact-check something like Pizzagate. Let the New York Times do that–they have a staff and a budget and will work more comprehensively than you likely can.

What I recommend instead is picking the topics you can quickly and easily check on. Most misinformation evaporates if you look at it closely at all. Jumbosearch is the big search box on our homepage. It contains the full contents of the library catalog plus the full text of about 150 million articles. It’s really good for solving a set of common fact-checking problems.

Example 1: new scientific discovery discussed in a news article. Question: is that actually what the study says? First Step: read the article.

  • How: use Jumbosearch to quickly identify if Tufts has an online copy or interlibrary loan it if we don’t. Usually an author’s name and a few distinctive words from the title are all you need. In this case the New York Times has linked to it, but in other cases you’ll need to search.
  • Note: Jumbosearch is also the easiest way to get past paywalls from off-campus. When you hit one, search for the article in Jumbosearch and you’ll be prompted to log in for full text if we have it.

Example 2: an author is discussing their new book with a spectacular claim. Question: is this reasonable? First step: check what reviewers say, especially scholarly ones. Next step: read the book yourself and draw your own conclusions.


Example 3: a friend on Twitter or Facebook or in your email inbox brings up something from a website you’ve never heard of. Question: Is this true? First step: see how other media are talking about the issue.

JS News

Additional useful tools

  • Oxford Reference and Credo Reference are both scholarly Wikipedia equivalents; Credo looks a little bit better on a mobile device, but they otherwise solve the same problem. It’s like having a shelf  of reputable scholarly encyclopedias and dictionaries.
  • BLC Worldcat is a library catalog of library catalogs, essentially books (and videos) and other things in print for several thousand research libraries worldwide, including Tufts. If Tufts has it you’ll see how to get it; if we don’t, you’ll be able to have it delivered in a few days.

These are the tools I reach for first if I read something dubious or doubtful or overly excited. Do this much, and you’ll be better prepared than most.

Next in this series: some suggestions for a balanced media diet, and a few news sources available to the Tufts community.

Dyabola Tips

May 30th, 2012 by Chris Strauber

Dyabola is an essential resource for archaeology research, but can be a little baffling. In no particular order, here are a few comments about how it works based on my work with it so far. It reminds me a lot of the CD-ROM interface I used for it in 1993.

  • It includes several collections of data we don’t subscribe to–they are in grey on the list and marked “get license”.
  • You’ll need to check the box labeled “Activate IP access” and hit “start”. Select the language of the interface by clicking on the flag you like.
  • Dyabola keeps a list of successful searches (i.e., ones with results) on the right; you can get back to a previous search by clicking on it, or return to the main menu by selecting Search Result Options.
  • What it’s searching is authors and titles; it’s also possible to browse by subject or by DAI record number.
  • Simple keyword searching appears to work fairly well
  • It is possible to combine lists of search results; it’s necessary to search multi-word phrases individually and combine them into a new result…which you have to name.
  • It is possible to print a list of citations
  • Author searching is gender-neutral. Which is to say, use initials rather than first names.
    • When you do a search it opens up a separate window without the usual browser back button and other controls
    • you can right-click (Windows) or option-click (Mac) to get the Back option
    • you can also click on one of the terms in Session Results on the right to get back to a set of results

Questions? Just ask!

Database news

May 30th, 2012 by Chris Strauber

Two new resources seem worth mentioning for humanists. And an old one has a new look.

World Newspaper Archive  1800  1922

A joint project of the Center for Research Libraries and CRL, the World Newspaper Archive digitizes newspapers from around the world. Search them together or search by region (Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, South Asia). This adds to our somewhat confusing collection of newspaper holdings. See our Newspapers and News research guide for more suggestions.


Dyabola is the index to archaeology literature published by the German Archaeological Institute. This collection also includes a variety of site data and photographic evidence. Note: You will need to click the button for “Activate IP access” to use the database.

Project Muse

Their recent redesign includes descriptive information for e-books…none of which we have bought so far. If there are titles here that you’re interested in, let me or your bibliographer know.

Questions about any of this? Just ask!

British Library Newspaper Archive

December 6th, 2011 by Chris Strauber

The British Library has recently made available about four million pages of local, regional, and national newspapers from the 18th and 19th centuries. You can search the archive for free…but to read the contents you’ll need to subscribe individually. (via The Telegraph)

What Tufts Has

We have a subscription to a subset of this collection, in our 17th and 18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers and our 19th Century British Library Newspapers collections, which means it’s a good bet we will eventually have access to all of this material. For the moment we have about fifty of the hundred and seventy-five 19th century titles listed here. That’s a conservative estimate–I’m counting titles which change names only once.

As always, if we don’t have it and you can identify what you need, we can probably get it for you via interlibrary loan.

Commentary on Newspapers and Libraries

Newspapers are hard. Pace Nicholson Baker (seriously, don’t get me started), libraries are *very* concerned about the preservation of newspapers. What’s tricky is that they tend to be collected locally, except for national papers like the New York Times and Washington Post. Ever have the local paper miss a delivery? Libraries get that, too, and we subscribe to many, many more newspapers than you do over much longer periods of time. This means we might have, for example, all of volume 68 of the New Yorker, except for number 36. Multiply by several hundred subscriptions and a hundred and fifty years….

Digitization projects tend to be market-driven, so the national papers everyone collects got done first. Local papers are being done piecemeal, local library by local library. Or they’re being done as part of larger packages by publishers or other vendors or, in this case, national libraries. Copyright concerns limit most digitization projects (in the US at least) to pre-1923 material.

National papers like the New York Times are available electronically for their whole run; we also have this arrangement for the Boston Globe and London Times. Note that the most recent x years of each of these is not covered in the same place as the older material. For the latest issues of these titles (it varies by title, but usually the last ten years or so), as well as local or regional papers, you’ll want to check Lexis-Nexis and/or Factiva.

Confused? Just ask.

On Invented Languages

November 29th, 2011 by Chris Strauber

I just read an interview with Michael Adams of Indiana University, the editor of a just-published collection of essays, From Elvish to Klingon: Exploring Invented Languages. He estimates there are about a thousand invented languages, including Esperanto and Na’avi (from Avatar). And acknowledges that it seems like a strange or geeky thing to do. “But fundamentally, it’s not crazy. We should all look on [invented languages] like we look on a poem or a painting or listen to music. As an aesthetic expression of the human experience.” (via Time International). We don’t have this yet (the publication date is 12/1/2011), but we do have his earlier study Slang: The People’s Poetry.

Can We Teach Love of Reading?

August 2nd, 2011 by Chris Strauber

Alan Jacobs, writing for the Chronicle, is dubious. He makes a really sensible distinction between reading for pleasure (deeply, immersively) and reading for information (skimming masses of information to identify where to focus), and suggests that deep, attentive reading of works of literature is a bit of a historical anomaly as a mass phenomenon. I’m inclined to agree that it’s unnecessary to worry for the fate of our intellectual life just because we can suddenly see so much more writing and discourse that’s un-literary and un-scholarly. It’s a really well-written piece, with a nice list of suggested reading. Here’s how to find the most interesting bits:

Jacobs cites Nicholson Baker’s The Shallows, Bacon’s Essay “Of Studies” (it’s number L in his Essays, in print or in EEBO), Rose’s The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, Brown’s biography of St. Augustine, Blair’s Too Much To Know: Managing Scholarly Information Before the Modern Age, and an article by Griswold, McDonnell, and Wright called “Reading and the Reading Class in the Twenty-First Century“. It’s a great bibliography, and bonus points for talking about the intellectual underpinnings of the Dewey Decimal system.

My summer vacation

July 28th, 2011 by Chris Strauber

I’ve been spending a lot of time the last few months working on projects related to Trunk, the new learning management system for Tufts’ Medford campus, which launches officially August 1st.

  • I’ve helped to write the training curriculum for our series of workshops introducing faculty, staff, and TAs to Trunk. I particularly recommend the advanced workshop on library resources and copyright I’ll be teaching with a colleague August 17th. If you haven’t registered for the basic workshop yet, please do–here’s the complete schedule of workshops.
  • I went out to LA for the Sakai annual conference in June. Sakai is the learning management system Trunk is built on, and it’s a very vibrant community. I got a chance to talk to colleagues at Indiana, Michigan, and Oxford on some exciting library-related features which I’m hoping Tufts can roll out soon. In the meantime I’ve updated the directions for how to link to library resources.
  • Last weekend I was at Wordcamp Boston, hosted at Boston University’s Sherman Union, a mini-conference on how to use WordPress, the software this blog runs on. There was a fun education track, with all sorts of suggestions from local colleagues on how to use WordPress to create online communities, mobile websites, and much, much else. I am *so* jealous of BU’s study abroad site.

I hope your summer has been as productive, and possibly a little more restful.

Literary journalism in new forms

May 13th, 2011 by Chris Strauber

The LA Times has a great discussion of several new publishers who are aiming to fill the space between books and substantial magazine articles, and also to create a free-standing market for long-form journalism. The first, Byliner, has attracted some attention recently with the publication of Jon Krakauer’s “Three Cups of Deceit”, which analyzes Greg Mortensen’s “Three Cups of Tea” and sparked a discussion of Mortensen’s financial management and general veracity. The Times compares the form to classic literary journalism like Norman Mailer’s history of the 1968 Democratic convention or Joan Didion’s essays on 1960’s culture.

“Three Cups of Deceit” (available through Amazon) is an intriguing in-between length, about eighty pages. Krakauer has enough space to develop his theme, but it’s a relatively simple story that doesn’t fit conventional publishing requirements–it’s too long even for something like the New Yorker, but too short to make a profitable book…and padding the length to make it book size would decrease the impact. It was well worth the $3 I spent. When Kindle Singles launched earlier this year, this was the sort of thing Amazon had in mind to encourage. I’m happy new kinds of publishers are experimenting with it to create great things.

Bin Laden and the Evolution of the Web

May 2nd, 2011 by Chris Strauber

On September 11th, 2001 I was working as a sales analyst for a tool company in Columbus, Ohio. When the initial reports of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center began circulating in the office I went online to confirm it and discovered that the web was broken. Specifically, was down. And I branched out to national newspapers: LA Times, Chicago Tribune, down. I went to smaller cities, TV stations, then smaller TV stations, newspaper sites from tiny towns, all down. I began checking British sites the same way, all down. I finally confirmed the news via the website of a small TV station in Provence. I had a dim recollection of this last night when ESPN mentioned the news about Osama Bin Laden and New York Times mobile took 30 seconds to load instead of the usual 2, but it didn’t crystallize for me until I read this analysis of how search engines handled the news last night and today by Danny Sullivan, my favorite search engine guru. Sullivan points out that Google was incapable of doing realtime search in 2001, or of searching news specifically, but can do both now. And the web has enough horsepower to handle live-streaming a royal wedding or the World Cup. Or the partial conclusion to a story which started ten years ago on a clear September day.