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Footnotes To Life

Because sometimes we need them to help us understand…

Category Archives: Critical Thinking

brad-meltzers-decoded-logo-with-history-logoMr. Meltzer,

I appreciate the amusement I get from your series on the History channel. It’s actually quite refreshing to hear such rampantly sarcastic predictions for the future as you put forth in your episode on the end of the world in 2012. I must assume they’re sarcastic, because you make wilder leaps than I do during a game of Assassin’s Creed.

Your logic goes a little something like this. All dogs have four legs, this animal has four legs, therefore this animal is a Bengal Tiger. These leaps of faith do make life interesting, but you seem to take them quite seriously. I don’t want to waste too much time pointing out every error, but I do at least want to point out some of the funniest most egregious.

Let’s start with the survival experts. I should point out a survival expert is an expert in survival, rather than in ancient Mayan predictions. Those you interviewed provided excellent descriptions of what happens after a calamity and excellent explanations of how to prepare for it, but unfortunately, they were a little shaky on whether the Mayan prediction would come true. I understood their confusion though, because they’re survivalists, rather than, you know… historians.

Having said that, I do believe you included one nice gent who said he’d use text messages to notify his followers after all modern infrastructure had crashed. I’m not sure he understood the cell phones would be out as well, because they’re part of the crumbling infrastructure. Either way, it doesn’t matter too much. Anyone he can’t reach via cell phone can Skype in later on.

We should also take a brief look at your predictions about the Black Death. For Europe in the 14th century – you said the 13th century, but it was, in fact, the 14th –this was a terrifying disease. Fortunately, modern medicine and modern sanitation have helped us overcome this terrible disease. I believe the lack of open sewers and an understanding of how disease spreads will lessen both the fear and reach of bubonic plague.

Furthermore, I appreciated your ability to weave a zombie outbreak into something that purports to be a serious documentary. I know nothing sells programs like a bit of undead scaremongering, but there has only been one reported case of zombie-ism in the United States, but that turned out to be a nasty red-wine hangover.

Finally, ending on the note “well, no-one laughed out loud when we mentioned the prediction,” therefore it must be true, is a little assumptive isn’t it? I was under the impression historians needed more evidence than the lack of a guffaw before they passed off a theory as fact. Knowing this would have saved me a lot of time in college.

Oh, by the way, the random jab you got in there about needing to loosen gun control laws because we’ll need them when the apocalypse comes made me laugh out loud. So if you need someone to do that for you next time, I’d be happy to oblige.

Since your program must be an elaborate work of fiction, I think you should include one of the disclaimers they have on Law and Order, stating that any relationship your program has with reality is purely coincidental. Just to prevent any confusion.


A. Concerned Historian


Fox News Unemployment Rate Graph

D'oh, forgot to move that last point.

I was in the process of writing a very nasty post about Fox News, and how they are clearly trying to manipulate the American public. However, after some research, it has become clear they are simply the butt of an excellent practical joke perpetrated by someone in their graphics department. In 2009, Fox News decided on a zero tolerance policy for errors in on air reporting. Clearly, such strong words haven’t worked.

My interest was aroused when I saw this recent error involving the unemployment rate. Here’s a link to it on the blog of Washington Post’s writer Erik Wemple. As you can see in the chart above, the most recent months  numbers appear at the same level as the previous month’s numbers, despite a 0.4% drop. In fact, the data point for the 8.6% rate in November is clearly above the point for the 8.8% rate in March. That looked to me like deception in action, so I had some scathing comments for Fox News, insulting their journalistic abilities, devious manipulation techniques and ancestry, until I found a second error.

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Photo from Flickr User ilgiovaneWalter (Sobchak)

Let’s face it, bullshit is pretty prevalent all over the internet. Selling us stuff we don’t need, promising amazing results and promoting useless products that break two days after they ship. These days, it seems even reputable sites are not immune. I was browsing around, something I consider a reputable news outlet, when I found a non-sponsored link to this story on Well, I don’t know about you, but that got my bullshit antenna tingling.

Firstly, have you noticed how many times this story says “weight loss?” Seriously, it’s in almost every sentence. The story has 372 words, and the phrases “weight loss” and “weight-loss” are used a combined total of 11 times. Let me say that again, 11 times in 17 sentences… does that sound like good English or keyword stuffing to me? I’ll tell you – this article is more stuffed than a thanksgiving turkey.

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