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home : opinions : columns   February 6, 2016

11/27/2013 8:11:00 AM
Column: Reliable sources

Jeff Dankert
NT Reporter

I’ve written columns before on this topic. The topic is honing your B.S. detector. We need a fully-functional detector these days as we consume the wide variety and massive volume of information flowing toward us these days.

News, advertising, social media, radio, TV, Internet, newspapers, word-of-mouth. A consumer must sometimes feel like they’re trying to get a sip from a fire hose.

Consumers are discriminating, but our discrimination of information can be like choosing food. This tastes good but that does not. We have a pretty good defense against bad-tasting food and this helps us avoid eating rotten fish.

Rotten information doesn’t always warn us. Sometimes it’s delivered with sweet perfume, a song and a dance. We have developed our B.S. detectors with rules such as “if it sounds too good to be true it probably isn’t” and “the simplest explanation is usually correct.”

These days, some bad information comes dressed up sounding terrible or strange and that becomes its allure.

I have followed for years the fascination of Midwesterners with purported cougar sightings. Maybe it’s the excitement of shocking news and the dullness of simple explanations, but a firestorm of cougar rumors can be set off by the tiniest spark. Fears of cougars poised to rip our children to shreds take the place of calm and reason.

Cougar images get trotted around the Internet for whatever rumor mill needs one. Twice in my newspaper career I discovered that a photo accompanying a cougar sighting was fraud, where the photo came from Internet Land and worked just fine for the new the claim.

Illinois had a confirmed cougar Nov. 20 in Whiteside County and it was shot and killed on a farm.

A follow-up cougar story by the Chicago Tribune contained a contradiction and therefore, at least one error. The story said this was the first confirmed cougar in Illinois since 2012, and also said it was the first since 2008, when one was shot and killed in Chicago.

Authorities consider a body as confirmation. They, too, have good B.S. detectors. So, for cougar reports, set your B.S. detector to “false” until proven true by state biologists.

My next question is origin. Did the cougar migrate here from the nearest wild population in South Dakota or did someone lose a pet? From a reliable source, the DNR, I heard Monday that this was a 2-year-old male with no signs of captivity. This upends my hunch of escaped pet.

However, on Facebook my pet hunch was shot down because having exotic pets is against the law and therefore, would not happen. This state and land is full of pets, from pythons to kangaroos to tigers, the law be damned. Facebook and blogs are great social interaction sites, great places to share links to reputable news, but poor primary sources for news.

Some tune their detectors to distrust the state or Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Some claim the government is secretly populating the state with cougars. These folks probably didn’t get much sleep last week during the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination.

I remember an interstate crash not too long ago in which the driver crossed the center median, crashed head-on with a vehicle and was charged with DUI. A rumor circulated the driver had been drinking.

The driver was under the influence of prescribed medication and blacked out.
So, keep fine-tuning your detector.

Jeff Dankert can be reached at (815) 220-6977 or

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