Wouldn’t it be something if we could hold news people accountable for their deeds? I mean, other professions seem to be able to be held accountable. Why not the people and entities who bring us information?
OK. let’s try that from a different tack.
When I was a young budding electrical engineer, I took a course called Modern Physics. The textbook, Fundamentals of Physics, was a huge tome by guys named Halliday and Resnick. I’ll never forget those two. Among other ideas that stuck with me for life, there were the concepts of accuracy and precision. Accuracy was represented by hitting the bulls-eye of a target with an arrow. Precision was hitting the same target over and over again. Accuracy included the idea of truth, scientific truth, that is. Precision was concerned I seem to recall with repetition.
We seem to have an awful lot of precision when it comes to information these days. The writers, the producers, and agencies that purvey the news can hit the same target again and again. But it seems that when it comes to the truth, scientific truth, reproducible truth, there is a gross deficiency. Every day we hear about retractions, we hear about folks getting stuff wrong, about information not being properly sourced.
When I was a wee pup, I worked in an agency that monitored various sources of news around the clock. When we thought some item of news rose to the level that it might interest our principals, we cranked out spot reports or even did rounds of phone calls. If we sent misdirected information to the top, we got in a bit of trouble.
I noticed that the only televised source of news reporting in those days got it wrong about 50% of the time when they were dealing with “breaking news.” So it became wise for us to wait beyond the “breaking news” point if it wasn’t a true emergency, to let them get it right.
Here is what I propose. Give each pundit, each writer, each news agency, each producer a public information accuracy quotient, IAQ. The IAQ would be a ratio of the number of times they issued information (precision) divided by the times their reports were true (accuracy). So, for example, if Joy Reid said various things seven times in a day for seven days in a week, the numerator would be 49. But if all the things were true, if they met the standard for accuracy, the denominator would also be 49, and her IAQ for the week would be 1. A perfect score. But as things became proven to be false, the denominator would shrink over time, slowly approaching some lower number, with a consequent rise in the overall ratio. Of course, the golden IQA, the standard for precision and accuracy, would always be 1, or unity. They would be required to display their IAQ on the website and, where applicable, on their television screen for all to see.
That way, when CNN or MSNBC or Fox News or any individual news reporter presented a IAQ greater than one, everybody would know. And people could use the IAQ to determine if they wanted to listen to or trust a particular source of news. Or shun them. A kind of a social ranking with consequences.
Is it really too much to ask?