Save Embarrassment - Check Publication Dates

Every August since 2004 I have received messages from irate site visitors who accuse me of being totally wrong in denouncing the Mars Close To Earth email forward as a hoax.

This email forward, which begins circulating anew during July and August every year, claims that Mars will be the closest to Earth in recorded history during August. This was true in 2003, but has not been true for any year since.

These visitors rather belligerently claim that they have seen evidence from a very credible source, namely the BBC, which proves that the information in the email forward is in fact true. They berate me for my lack of research and claim that my article could cause many people to miss out on this “once in a lifetime” event. However, when I gently point out that their conclusions are based on a simple error on their part, their belligerence is rapidly replaced with embarrassment.

The "proof" they speak of are BBC articles about the, factual, 2003 close encounter with Mars. These old articles are apt to come up high in the search results for people who are looking to verify information in the email forward. At face value, these articles seem to completely confirm the claims in the email forward. However, many people apparently forget to look at the DATE the articles were last updated – in this case, August 2003.

Of course, once the reader notices this date, it becomes clear that articles like mine dismissing post 2003 versions of the email forward as inaccurate and hopelessly outdated don’t miss the mark after all.

News articles have been available on the Internet for a long time now, and there is a vast and growing repository of archived news information available. But, before you use an online news article to back up a point of view or verify a piece of information that has come your way, it is important to check the date that the article was published. Although it may have been true at the time of publication, information in an outdated article may have no relevance to current events whatsoever and may cause unnecessary confusion when used out of its original time frame.

The "published" or "last updated" date is usually included at the top or bottom of online news articles and should not be difficult to locate.

posted by Brett Christensen @ 4:25 PM,

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