International Women’s Day, internet arguments and a surprise information literacy lesson

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, so naturally there were plenty of people who feel the need to lash out online when asked to consider the situation of women for one day a year.

One video I saw doing the rounds was this one from “Prager University”, released just in time for this special day. Watch it if you’re curious.

The video claims to debunk the “myth” of the gender wage gap. It has nice production values, charts and numbers, and has the word University in it. Unfortunately, those factors are enough for it to pass the “trustworthy” test for a lot of folks.

I think this video makes a good example of why it’s important to critical evaluate sources. I can imagine students using this or similar videos to inform their arguments at a university level. It looks and sounds similar to other educational videos that you might be able to use in a class presentation or project, but it’s very different.

Let’s ask a few classic questions to help us evaluate this source.

Who is the author/responsible organisation? Spoiler alert: Prager University is not a real university. It doesn’t even have students! It’s basically a YouTube channel that styles itself with the word “university” in its name. But don’t believe me – believe the note at the bottom of the organisation’s website in a blue font on a blue background: “PRAGER UNIVERSITY IS NOT AN ACCREDITED ACADEMIC INSTITUTION AND DOES NOT OFFER CERTIFICATIONS OR DIPLOMAS. BUT IT IS A PLACE WHERE YOU ARE FREE TO LEARN.” Cool. Unfortunately I saw a few people yesterday link to this video as “proof” that their beliefs were legitimately backed up by research from this university. They retreated when someone pointed out the “not a real university” thing (and hey, it wasn’t me – someone got there before me, so there is hope for humanity’s critical evaluation skills.)

What is the agenda/purpose of the video? PragerU explain on their “About Us” page that their mission and vision is to “explain and spread what we call “Americanism” through the power of the Internet. Our five-minute videos are conservative sound bites that clarify profoundly significant and uniquely American concepts for more than 100 million people each year” and to provide “intellectual ammunition they need to defend and spread those values.” Provide intellectual ammunition. Spread “Americanism”. Ponder those phrases. Then compare them to “inform and educate”. Obviously the video is putting forward a certain point of view, informed by a worldview that PragerU wants to defend.

Does the information have any biases? Hahahahaha. HAHAHAHAHA.

Does it cite its sources? Where do they come from? This is the tricky one. The video references real studies and statistics. That makes it legit, right? But ask yourself: are the conclusions the video makes backed up by the facts, or do they put forward their own assertions to argue their agenda? Anyone who’s fluffed their way through an essay knows that you can cherry-pick references to back up any argument you wish you make, it doesn’t make it a good argument.

In this age of “alternative facts”, we’re more divided than ever and just seek and share information that backs up our existing beliefs, or worse, gears us up to attack others and their points of view. PragerU seems set up explicitly to foster this, providing “intellectual ammunition” for Facebook soldiers. With so much biased information out there, masquerading as authoritative, it’s so hard to seek and find the truth! I’m not sure people even want the truth sometimes.

Please, think about the information you hear/read/watch. It’s more important now than ever.



#BlogJune 30 – Full Circle

The Muse… we learned how to communicate more effectively.

And here we are at the end of the road! It’s the last day of BlogJune. I made it.

Now it’s time to measure how I did against the objectives I made up at the beginning of the month.

  • To engage more with stuff in libraryland and develop new opinions.

I think that I have done this, especially by doing a number of 23 research data things during this month. As I reflected in a post the other day, this also led to me getting involved in a webinar discussion, showing a direct connection between blogging/tweeting and real industry engagement. It’s also been really good to have some contact with others doing the BlogJune challenge, and having some conversations.

  • To learn more from my work through reflecting and writing about it.

One interesting thing from this experience is that I didn’t blog about work as much as I anticipated. So some posts were about work, professional development or concerns of the library/information industry (23RDT and only a couple of musings), some were only tangentially related – reading, social media, librarian stereotypes – but some were more like a diary, especially over my 4 day holiday in the middle of the month. One real benefit of this was that knowing that I had to journal about my trip did help me enjoy it more. I don’t normally take many photos, travelling or otherwise, but I took a few this time so I would have a choice of things to add to my blog that night. I was also absorbing and reflecting on my experiences more. That goes to show that there’s a real benefit to blogging or keeping a journal.

  • To refine my writing voice.

I can’t really say I’m a better writer than I was at the beginning of the month. These skills take time. However, this challenge forced me to take the thoughts that I always have floating around in my head and actually put them in writing. This was a mental leap in its own right, because my default is to let many of those thoughts stew in my brain, never to see the light of day. Once I was in a position of forced daily writing, I realised that there were actually a lot of ideas ready to harvest for my blog posts. So, I suppose that does make me a better writer – not in terms of style, but in terms of being able to convert thoughts to words. Which is a pretty important part of it, right? I hope that I’ll be able to keep this up. Maybe next time I notice a thought stewing in my brain, rather than leaving it up there, I should write it down – and blog about it! My posts have been a little rough, however. Some were not well structured, or contained bad grammar and typos (but in my defence many of my posts were hammered out on an iPad. All I can say is: WordPress app + iPad keyboard = treacherous). Perhaps the pressure to post every day made them a bit rushed. In future, I’ll probably take my time with proofreading, and maybe saving my posts as drafts to come back to the next day. I want to keep improving.

  • To turn my non-blog into a real blog!

There’s certainly a lot more content here now. I once heard a piece of wisdom that it takes 28 days in a row of doing something to make it a habit. I’ve had 30. Have I started a habit of regular blogging? I guess we won’t see the fruits until a few weeks time, when i can look back and see if I did keep it up. I will keep blogging 23 research data things, and hopefully more. I really think that I will. But before then, I may take a few well-earned days off. 🙂

#BlogJune 28 – Webinar mania

Holy headphones, Batman! I’ve just presented (or helped present) 2 entirely different webinars in less than a week. I know that might be business as usual for some, but not for me. Goes to show there’s a first time for everything, swiftly followed by a second time.

If you’ve been to my blog before you might have noticed I’ve been blogging my way through 23 Research Data Things fairly rapidly over the past few weeks. I’ve also been tweeting my posts, and all this activity led to me being found out and invited to be on the panel for the official 23 Research Data Things catch-up webinar, which happened today. It was totally unexpected, but a fun opportunity.

It was pretty casual really- I wasn’t there as an “expert” but just as one representative of people going through the program. It was all about reflecting on my experience. It was also a good chance to hear from other people and the wisdom and insights they offered on the topic of Research Data, especially on the topics of licensing and collecting/sharing sensitive data.

I’ll have fully caught up with the program this week (just one more “thing” to complete) so I plan to go to the next webinar as a regular participant. Should be fun. I really recommend the program to any librarians. Don’t feel the pressure to do every part of the program, or to “catch up” with the official schedule (even though I’ve chosen to), if those are barriers for you. It’s a great resource for an important and growing area for academic librarians.

#BlogJune 27 – Social Media audit

I use different social media for different purposes. They have different strengths and suit different types of communication for different areas of life. There are some that I know I’m not making the most out of. I’ve made up a table that summarises what social media platforms I use, how privately, how actively, and how I use them:

Platform Privacy Active How I Use It
 Twitter public daily Lightly work related; occasionally off-topic. Mostly reading and sharing library-related links, retweeting other people.
Facebook & Messenger real-life friends only daily Personal. Entertainment, humour, news. No library stuff other than what I think will appeal to my family and friends. Keeping in contact with people, co-ordinating events and get-togethers etc.
 Tumblr anonymous daily Entertainment, humour, art and design. Also started a very seldom-updated library-related tumblr blog, which I must have thought was a good a idea at the time.
WordPress (blog)  public fluctuates (at the moment daily, but ask me again when BlogJune’s over…) Lightly work/library related; occasionally off-topic. Been a bit more personal lately during BlogJune
 Instagram public every few weeks Personal. Normally post photos on insta and push to facebook rather than uploading directly to fb. I’m trying to find my own “groove” with it. Still taking photos of sunsets and cups of coffee which is a bit basic/generic – I need to make it my own.
 Linkedin public seldom Mostly a static page. Little interaction. Only update with new qualifications, new job etc anonymous seldom (though the plug-in for Spotify and iTunes is always on) Recording everything I listen to. Little interaction.
 GoodReads anonymous seldom Recording everything I read. Little interaction.

#BlogJune 26 – A Personality Post: Being INTP

I enjoy theories of different personality types, one of the most popular being the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The standard type indicator test asks you to chose between 2 of each of the following:

  • Extroverted or Introverted
  • Sensing or iNtuition
  • Thinking or Feeling
  • Judging or Percieving

My type is INTP (introverted, intuition, thinking, percieving). However, I’ve never found it that satisfying for describing myself. The main tension is needing to chose between thinking and feeling. Whenever I read descriptions of the types, INTP is quite extreme in the “thinking” end of the scale, like an emotionless robot, while INFP is always described as exceptionally touchy-feely, which isn’t me either.

A better way of thinking about the MBTI types is to use the 8 cognitive functions. There’s a good description of them here. It bunks the idea that we only use 4 of the possible 8 descriptors listed above. In the cognitive functions model, all the functions get used in different ways. We have a primary function, which is the strongest and the one we use easily and without effort. The second function is next strongest, the third is the “relief” function – it’s not as strong as the first two but it is often the way that we express creativity and use for fun and recreation. The fourth function is the inferior function – the weakest.

For an INTP, the four functions are:

  1. Introverted Thinking
  2. Extroverted Intuition
  3. Introverted Sensing
  4. Extroverted Feeling

Here’s a description of how the cognitive functions interact with the types. What interested me about this is the inferior function. I am not a robot, like the INTP is often described. That’s because I have extroverted feeling.

“Social graces,” such as being polite, being nice, being friendly, being considerate, and being appropriate, often revolve around the process of extroverted Feeling. Keeping in touch, laughing at jokes when others laugh, and trying to get people to act kindly to each other also involve extraverted feeling. (quote)

The interesting thing about the 4th function is that is our “aspirational” function. It does not come naturally to us, but we aspire to be good at it, and value it very highly. There is also the most potential for personal growth by strengthening our 4th function, which is something I have found to be very true over the last few years. Because I am an introvert, using my extroverted feeling takes energy, but it is worth it.