Incorrect Deductions Aren't Just An Online Thing

It's fashionable right now to suggest that everyone should cut back on obsessive Internet media consumption, but it's also worth remembering that people were acting based on incorrect or incomplete information long before the Web, social networking and text messaging emerged.

Picture by wallyg

At BBC News, Lisa Jardine uses the example of artist Albrecht Duerer to point out that making the wrong interpretation of the facts is far from the exclusive provenance of the I-heard-it-online-it-must-be-true era. As she points out in a discussion of a Duerer self-portrait:

His left hand is poised in the moment of drawing - thumb, middle and forefinger in the act of gripping the pen, his open palm facing out towards us, his two remaining fingers held elegantly aloft. So does this mean that Duerer was left-handed? Well, no, of course, it does not. Like most artists, Duerer paints himself by looking in a mirror, and thus paints the "mirror image" of himself, reflected through 180 degrees, so that the painter's right hand - the one in which he holds his pen - appears to be his left one. Yet Duerer's name continues to appear in any number lists of "south paw" or left-handed figures from history - just try putting "Duerer" and "left-handed" into your search engine. The precision of line and angle in his drawing still has the capacity actively to mislead.

Jardine's more general argument — that it's often hard to tell in the noise of current events what will really be relevant — is also well worth considering. As ever, the lesson is to look for sources for any contentious claim, and to think about the inherent bias in those sources.

The great, always-on information tap [BBC News]


    Thought this was about the ATO...

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