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mass-bird-deaths

Something about New Years this year has triggered a huge increase in Apocalyptic fascination in Western Culture. On a related note, my kids have asked me about the world ending in 2012 just about every day since my son saw the disaster flick 2012: Doomsday at a friends house over the Christmas break. (There’s someone to take of the Christmas card list for next year) Just in case you’ve been watching Glee episodes constantly since Christmas, the ancient Mayans, who are now extinct, used to use a calendar that runs out of numbers on December 20th, 2012. Some have used this to suggest that the world must end then. I’ll tell you what I tell my kids:

I am not going to take pointers on future events from a culture that went extinct. They didn’t see that coming? Why should I take their predictions so seriously? That’s like getting financial advice from a planner who’s broke. It also reminds me of a psychic that was killed in a car fire. Apparently nobody could see that coming either.

The newspapers have featured a story about a flock of birds dying somewhere every other day last week and people are starting to get freaked out. The problem is that this has been happening for years.

The Wall Street Journal, no less, says that on average, between 160 and 200 such “mass death” events in wildlife are reported to the federal government each year, according to the USGS (United States Geological Survey). This irrational behaviour highlights a new media habit that we all need to practice:

Make sure you get your information from a source that combines news and other media from a variety of other sources. In statistics you call this aggregate data, data collected from a large number of other sources. The benefit in using aggregate data is that one weird source will be balanced out by a bunch of other more balanced sources. A blog that tells you that birds dropping dead in Beebe AR is a sign that Jesus is returning momentarily should be contrasted with some other sources, like say … anyone else.

There is no such thing as a totally objective news source so give up trying to find it. The best alternative is a group of independent opinions. When you hear news that you want to confirm, go to Google and type in your query and then click News at the top of the screen. You will get all the news sources that have recently commented on the story in question.

Secondly, get a news source. Most people I know don’t have any idea what is going on with the world but can tell you who went in or out of rehab this week. I think you owe it to yourself to be a bit more aware of your own awareness of the world. If you always get your news from the ticker at Yahoo, think about what kind of news you are getting? You’re hearing about Lindsay Lohan going in / out / in / out of rehab. Is this really the most important thing that has happened this morning? How about for a month get your headlines from Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, New York Times, or any other mainstream news source and see what you’re missing. You likely missed that Christians in Egypt are getting blown up by religious extremists (I am writing something about this tomorrow). To have a grip on reality I think you ought to know that.

But don’t take my word for it:

Fox News
Reuters Science
National Post
Globe and Mail

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