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unSpun
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unSpun
Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation
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The founders of FactCheck.org teach you how to identify and debunk spin, hype, and fake news in this essential guide to informed citizenship in an age of misinformation.Americans are bombarded daily...
The founders of FactCheck.org teach you how to identify and debunk spin, hype, and fake news in this essential guide to informed citizenship in an age of misinformation.Americans are bombarded daily...
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Description-

  • The founders of FactCheck.org teach you how to identify and debunk spin, hype, and fake news in this essential guide to informed citizenship in an age of misinformation.

    Americans are bombarded daily with mixed messages, half-truths, misleading statements, and out-and-out fabrications masquerading as facts. The news media is often too intimidated, too partisan, or too overworked to keep up with these deceptions.
    unSpun is the secret decoder ring for the twenty-first-century world of disinformation. Written by Brooks Jackson and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the founders of the acclaimed website FactCheck.org,unSpun reveals the secrets of separating facts from disinformation, such as:
    • the warning signs of spin
    • common tricks used to deceive the public
    • how to find trustworthy and objective sources of information
    Telling fact from fiction shouldn't be a difficult task. With this book and a healthy dose of skepticism, anyone can cut through the haze of political deception and biased eportage to become a savvier, more responsible citizen.
    Praise for unSpun
    "Read this book and you will not go unarmed into the political wars ahead of us. Jackson and Jamieson equip us to be our own truth squad, and that just might be the salvation of democracy." —Bill Moyers

    "The definitive B.S. detector—an absolutely invaluable guidebook."—Mark Shields, syndicated columnist and political analyst, NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
    "unSpun is an essential guide to cutting through the political fog."—Mara Liasson, NPR national political correspondent

    "The Internet may be a wildly effective means of communication and an invaluable source of knowledge, but it has also become a new virtual haven for scammers–financial, political, even personal. Better than anything written before, unSpun shows us how to recognize these scams and protect ourselves from them."—Craig Newmark, founder and customer service representative, Craigslist

Excerpts-

  • Chapter 1 From Snake Oil to Emu Oil

    A century ago a self-proclaimed cowboy named Clark Stan- ley, calling himself the Rattlesnake King, peddled a product he called Snake Oil Liniment. He claimed it was "good for man and beast" and brought immediate relief from "pain and lameness." Stanley sold it for 50 cents a bottle--the equivalent of more than $10 today--as a remedy for rheumatism, toothache, sciatica, and "bites of animals, insects and reptiles," among other ailments. To promote his pricey cure-all, Stanley publicly slaughtered rattlesnakes at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893.

    Stanley was the most famous of the snake-oil salesmen, back before passage of the federal Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. And he was a fraud. When the federal government finally got around to seizing some of Stanley's product in 1915, the Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Chemistry (forerunner of today's Food and Drug Administration) determined that it "consisted principally of a light mineral oil (petroleum product) mixed with about 1 per cent of fatty oil (probably beef fat), capsicum, and possibly a trace of camphor and turpentine." And no actual snake oil. Stanley was charged with violating the federal food and drug act. He didn't contest the charge and was fined $20.

    Are today's pitchmen and hucksters any less deceptive? We don't think so. "Snake oil" has a bad name these days (at least in the United States; in China, it is used to relieve joint pain). But in 2006 we found another animal-oil product that--according to its marketer--is "much better than Botox! [and] Makes Wrinkles Almost Invisible to the Naked Eye! . . . Look as much as 20-years younger . . . in less than one minute." The maker even claims that the product won't just hide wrinkles, with repeated use it may eliminate them: "It is possible your wrinkles will no longer even exist." The name of the product is Deception Wrinkle-Cheating Cream. How appropriate.

    According to Planet Emu, the marketer, this scientific miracle contains "the only triple-refined emu oil in the world," but we quickly determined that this product is nothing more than triple-refined hokum. Emus are those big, flightless Australian birds; the oil is said to be an ancient Aboriginal remedy. But when we asked Planet Emu for proof of their claims, they cited only one scientific study of emu oil's cosmetic properties, and it had nothing to do with wrinkles. It found that emu oil was rated better than mineral oil as a moisturizer by eleven test subjects. We searched the medical literature for ourselves and found some scanty evidence that emu oil may promote healing of burns in rats. We found no testing of emu oil as a wrinkle cream, much less any testing that compared it with Botox.

    That's where a century of progress in product promotion has gotten us: from baseless claims for snake oil to baseless claims for emu oil. The products change, but the techniques of deception (small "d") are as underhanded now as they were in the days of Clark Stanley. Meanwhile the price has gone up. "Deception" emu-oil wrinkle cream, at $40 for three quarters of an ounce, costs four times more than a bottle of its snake-oil forebear, even after adjusting for a century of inflation.

    Bunk is fairly typical of beauty products. "All the cosmetics companies use basically the same chemicals," a former cosmetics chemist, Heinz J. Eiermann, told The Washington Post way back in 1982. "It is all the same quality stuff." Eiermann was then head of the Food and Drug Administration's division of cosmetics technology. His conclusion: "Much of what you pay for is make-believe."

    Cosmetics advertising is just one example of the rampant deception that surrounds...

About the Author-

  • Brooks Jackson runs FactCheck.org and was previously an investigative reporter for the Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, and CNN. He is the author of Honest Graft: Big Money and the American Political Process and Broken Promise: Why the Federal Election Commission Failed. Jackson lives in Washington, D.C.
    Kathleen Hall Jamieson is the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. She has written more than a dozen books, including Dirty Politics: Deception, Distraction, and Democracy and Everything You Think You Know About Politics . . . and Why You're Wrong. Jamieson lives in Philadelphia.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 23, 2007
    According to Jamieson and Jackson, both of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center, "spin is a polite word for deception," and deception is everywhere. As a remedy, they offer this media literacy crash course. The authors explore spin's warning signs ("If it's scary, be wary") and the tricks used to bring people around to a certain point of view ("The implied falsehood," "Frame it and claim it"), as well as the lessons to call on when confronted with conflicting or suspect stories ("Extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence"). Although they tackle the checkered history of product pitches (from snake oil to Cold-Eeze), what stands out is their keen insight into Washington politics, where "deception is a bipartisan enterprise," as illustrated by Bush and Kerry in the 2004 presidential election (in which both fudged the facts of unemployment and taxation). September 11 and the run-up to Gulf War II give the authors their most convincing talking points, debunking myths and chronicling Washington's use of "fear, uncertainty, and doubt"-cited so often it gets the acronym "FUD"-to generate public support for the 2003 invasion. However, the rules to avoid these and other carefully enumerated tricks range from commonsensical ("You can't be completely certain") to labor intensive ("Check primary sources"), leaving one to wonder whether the spin doctors have already won out over energy- and time-deficient Americans.

  • Library Journal

    April 16, 2007
    According to Jamieson and Jackson, both of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center, "spin is a polite word for deception," and deception is everywhere. As a remedy, they offer this media literacy crash course. The authors explore spin's warning signs ("If it's scary, be wary") and the tricks used to bring people around to a certain point of view ("The implied falsehood," "Frame it and claim it"), as well as the lessons to call on when confronted with conflicting or suspect stories ("Extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence"). Although they tackle the checkered history of product pitches (from snake oil to Cold-Eeze), what stands out is their keen insight into Washington politics, where "deception is a bipartisan enterprise," as illustrated by Bush and Kerry in the 2004 presidential election (in which both fudged the facts of unemployment and taxation). September 11 and the run-up to Gulf War II give the authors their most convincing talking points, debunking myths and chronicling Washington's use of "fear, uncertainty, and doubt"-cited so often it gets the acronym "FUD"-to generate public support for the 2003 invasion. However, the rules to avoid these and other carefully enumerated tricks range from commonsensical ("You can't be completely certain") to labor intensive ("Check primary sources"), leaving one to wonder whether the spin doctors have already won out over energy- and time-deficient Americans.

    Copyright 2007 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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