Least likely guest on the planet: We’ll admit it—Amanda Ripley drives us a little bit nuts.
Last year, Ripley published a ballyhooed book about public schools, The Smartest Kids in the World. It was a gigantic favorite of all teacher-hating elites.
We’re willing to assume that Ripley’s intentions are good. But in some ways, we’d say that her book included the most cherry-picked facts on the planet. (Below, we’ll recall what she did.)
This Tuesday, we were listening to The Diane Rehm Show on our car radio. Like most people, we like Rehm. She previewed her opening hour:
REHM (8/19/14): Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm.Say what? For the full transcript, click here.
Americans have access to more news than ever before. But research shows we've never had less trust in our sources of information.
Joining me to talk about how to judge the credibility of news in the digital age, Alan Miller of The News Literacy Project; author and investigative journalist, Amanda Ripley; social media journalist, Andy Carvin of First Look Media; and Tom Rosenstiel, he's executive director of the American Press Institute.
I hope you'll join me. I know this will be an interesting and informative discussion.
By rule of law, Rosenstiel has to be present for any such discussion. We’re not saying that’s wrong.
(We did the Rehm Show in October 2000; Rosenstiel was present then too. Frankly, we’re not sure he ever went home from the studio.)
If you plan to discuss “trust in our sources of information,” Rosenstiel has to be present. But why was Ripley there? Speaking of trust in sources of information, here’s what she did in her widely ballyhooed book:
There are two major sets of international tests for public school students—the TIMSS/PIRLS and the PISA. Almost all developed nations, including the U.S., participate in both sets of tests.
American kids tend to score better on the TIMSS/PIRLS. For that reason, advocates of “education reform” almost always cite the PISA.
The cherry-picking doesn’t stop there. They tend to cite the PISA math test, the subtest on which our kids have scored most poorly in recent administrations. (We've scored better in reading and science.)
In her widely cited book, Ripley cherry-picked those international data to death. In the course of writing an entire book, she never even mentioned the existence of the TIMSS/PIRLS tests.
You could read her entire book without being told that these tests exist! Like others who beat the drums for “reform,” she only mentioned the PISA.
She did make one exception. At one point, she cited data from the TIMSS to prove a few points about the alleged greatness of Minnesota’s reform-friendly schools—though she never mentioned where the data in question had come from. In short, good scores on the TIMSS showed that Minnesota was great. Good scores nationwide on the very same tests somehow got disappeared.
To us, that represented world-class cherry-picking of information. Two days ago, there she was, helping the nation answer Johnny Carson’s old question:
Crackers! Who do you trust? How do we know who we can trust for our sources of information?