Kipling's Camel and Fake News
Updated: Nov 8, 2019
One of my favorite activities outside of work is running. Yes, my wife thinks I am crazy and sometimes after a long run I agree with her. This past weekend, I went for a long run and came home and sat down with the book, Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery, hoping to find an answer to the soreness I knew would be shooting through my body later that day. The book would also help me prepare for my upcoming class on how to critically look at and determine if medical stories are fake news or not.
How does running and science all come into play in the world of media literacy? The book’s author, Christie Aschwanden, remembers her college professor calling narratives that people and scientists develop to explain their data “just so” stories. The name comes from Richard Kipling’s animal tales for children which explain for example that the camel got its hump as punishment for being lazy. “Just so” stories like this are not necessarily created because they are true but because they fit the data or observation. Is every health claim Tom Brady makes true just because he is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL?
When the story fits what we want to believe, it’s easy to overlook its flaws. Sounds a lot like confirmation bias. So as much as we want to believe that an onion taped to the bottom of your foot can cure sickness, it “just isn’t so.”