Portraits of Wildflowers

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Archive for May 22nd, 2022

Grabbing grape

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The most common native grapevine in Austin is the mustang grape, Vitis mustangensis. Last year I showed how a prolific one on the side of FM (Farm-to-Market) 2222 just west of the Capital of Texas Highway covered a tree. On May 10th of this year I went back to the same highwayside and focused on young mustang grape tendrils. In the top picture you see how some had latched on to a couple of Mexican hats, Ratibida columnifera. Even when nothing external is available, mustang grape tendrils can live out their innate impulse by curling around themselves, as seen below.



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The fight against mis- and dis-information—a worthy goal—is often based on two flawed assumptions. The first is that definitive answers are known to the disputed points. The second, related to the first, is that the right people to provide those answers can be identified and agreed upon. Both assumptions are themselves often steeped in the Certainty Trap—a resolute unwillingness to recognize the possibility that we might not be right in our beliefs and claims.

To understand the implications of the mis- and dis-information labeling, we need only consider instances like the initial response to claims around Hunter Biden’s laptop or the source of COVID-19. In 2020, several major media outlets dismissed as mis- or dis-information (see here and here for examples) the possibility that a laptop of incriminating emails belonged to Hunter Biden. The certainty with which this position was held led to the silencing of anyone who publicly questioned it—so much so that it has been called “the most severe case of pre-election censorship in modern American political history.” Recent evidence, however, has forced the same outlets who invoked those labels to acknowledge the laptop’s authenticity. Similarly, in early 2020, the suggestion that COVID-19 might have originated in a lab in China was dismissed as groundless fodder for racism and xenophobia. The certainty that led to this reflexive dismissal was walked back just over a year later, but the judgment of the once dissenting voices shouldn’t be forgotten.


That’s a passage from a May 9th article in Tablet titled “The Certainty Trap,” by Ilana Redstone, which you’re welcome to read. On March 21st Tablet had run the related article “Invasion of the Fact-Checkers,” by Jacob Siegel, which I also invite you to read. Its title reminds me of a line from the Latin poet Juvenal’s Satires: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” “Who will watch those watchers?” Now we’re forced to ask who’s going to fact-check the fact-checkers.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 22, 2022 at 4:31 AM

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