Hunting, gathering and finding the truth

“He was a dwarfish figure that lived in a cave.

“This person would rage at the wealthy and complacent — those who crossed to do good but also did well — to abolish a practice that he swore they would pay for with their blood. At one point this person splattered blood-like juice on attendees; another time he kidnapped a child.

“Friends disowned, denounced, and expelled him/her from their community.”

No … that is not about yours truly. I would never kidnap a child.

I do have something in common, however, with the subject* of that description. Our deeds each were worth 2 points in the annual State of Jefferson Academic Scavenger Hunt for middle-school students, sponsored by Southern Oregon University.

Yep, right there among the accomplishments of historical figures, rock ‘n roll legends, politicians, puppets, paupers, pirates, poets, pawns and kings, was a Gerald Ford wisecrack dropped into this space recently relating to the doubling in the size of tweets.

Well, that’s life. As the saying goes, if I knew this was going to happen, I would have worn orange.

The young students hunting and gathering had to search various data formats — from print to computer programs — to come up with sources for the answers to 45 clues.

By comparison, the last time I competed in a scavenger hunt … I was tasked with finding a glass milk bottle. We got an extra point if it was filled (with milk — two points for chocolate).

What’s most encouraging about this deep-diving is that those in charge required authentication of source materials. For those of us who lament that modern technology has all but eliminated the need for students to “show their work,” this is a refreshing notion.

“Remember, one source is required for each question,” the rules state, “but two corroborating sources is the safest course to take.”

Equally as heartwarming were the type of sources not allowed as documentation — “ask” sites, blogs, Facebook posts, tweets and other social-media outlets.

Yes, it’s an old-school methodology that’s being asked for by the hunt organizers; but in a culture where 46 percent believe what they hear from news organizations is fake, it warms the cockles that the next generation is being trained to seek out actual verification.

It’s a flicker of hope at a time when — once again — the details surrounding a mass shooting are being doubted. Yesirree, there’s folks out there on what only can be called the Dim Web spreading stories that the Texas church killings were either a hoax or staged for political purposes.

It’s now part of an all-too-familiar process. 1) Tragedy. 2) Stories about the victims, the survivors, the perpetrator. 3) Social media becomes flooded with emotional and/or boilerplate responses. 4) Eventual argument over whether stronger laws could have prevented the tragedy. 5) Tinfoil hat electrodes are activated.

Consider a three-year study by Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, which indicates that social-media posts on a topic spike by as much as 20 percent after media outlets simultaneously report on the issue.

The study’s authors conclude that covering a news story in traditional media has a direct influence on the “750 million social-media posts that appear publicly on the web each day.”

Left out of the quantitative socially scientific analysis is just how many of those three-quarter-billion posts have some foundation in reality.

That such falsehoods stitched from unholy cloth gain traction isn’t surprising. Will the Texas families who lost loved ones be threatened by the same Dim Web wits who accused relatives of the Las Vegas and Sandy Hook victims of being conspirators in a government flim-flam?

Well, you’re smart people … you know the answer to that.

Just as you know that they aren’t searching for documentation that mass shootings are staged.

As the students taking part in the State Of Jefferson Academic Scavenger Hunt could tell you, tinfoil hats aren't an accepted source.

— *Mail Tribune copy editor Robert Galvin couldn’t figure out this one. If you can, contact him at

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