Sunday, February 10, 2013

Apes that can fly and Oranges

Our enraged friend, Prof. AbuKhalil, who teaches political science at California State University, Stanislaus and visiting professor at UC, Berkeley, likes to point out factual errors that occur in American  media outlets.

Here is one example:
Saturday, February 09, 2013

Zaydis in Yemen

"The Huthis are Zaydis, followers of a variant of Shiite Islam, and they make up about a quarter of Yemen’s population."  Zaydis are at least 40% of the Yemeni population.  
Detecting, notifying, and correcting the errors in media outlets are an interest of mine, too. So I can well sympathize with the good professor's reflex here. But unfortunately he often tends to jump in before actually paying the slightest attention to his facts, even when they are laid out explicitly. In this case his correction is a case of a fool rushing in. The reported statement does not say that  the Zaydis  make up about a quarter of Yemen’s population but rather, that the Huthis do. It is obvious the author was aware of the difference and wanted to state the facts as accurately as possible. AbuKhalil's miscomprehension could have been excused had the author written "The Huthis are Zaydis, followers of a variant of Shiite Islam, [who] make up about a quarter of Yemen’s population." But the author chose to avoid the potential ambiguity (the "who"could refer back to either Huthis or Zaydis) by repeating the "they" which clearly refers to "Huthis", the subject of the sentence, and not the "Zaydis".

When I say: The orange is the fruit of the citrus, and it is the colour between red and yellow in the visible spectrum, I am clearly speaking about the Orange and not the larger category of Citrus. This is elementary.

Why does this even merit a mention and a post on my blog? 

Because this is a professor who is entrusted with teaching young American students the proper and reliable ways of reading and understanding texts so as to be able to collect facts and form arguments and ethical positions based on the kind of information they (the students) collate. If the teacher cannot  perform this easy task of at least understanding what a sentence really says, how can he teach?  And what is the reason for such dismal performance, from someone who managed to get a PhD and write a few books himself? Is it that the prof has no time to read properly? Or does he go out looking for errors and finding them where they do not even exist? And why would a teacher, with presumably a trained mind in reading comprehension, act in this pedestrian way?

It is of course conceivably possible that the prof has erected an iron wall between his performance as teacher and his role as a blogger with a biased agenda. 
And this could serve as some sort of exoneration of a disciplined academic mind at work: The prof provides an scientific explanation why Jews should not be offended by being referred to as apes.



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