In my first practical journalism course at the University of Missouri, instructors stressed the importance of avoiding assumptions. If you didn't hear it from a voice or read it in writing — either in a written statement or online — then you don't know if it's true or not.
And even then, the truth isn't guaranteed, so skepticism is a journalist's friend.
That's useful advice I've had to fall back on pretty much daily, even if it, to a certain degree, robs me of a bit of humanity.
Before I conduct an interview, or call someone with questions regarding a piece of news, I try to sit down and write out three to five questions that get to the heart of what I want to know. Additionally, I try to take some time to do a bit of research — check on old stories, read relevant documents, etc.
It's an exercise that helps me prepare to do my job better.
It's also an exercise that could benefit everyone, since the truth is, as noted above, not a guarantee anymore.
Watching a 60 Minutes piece on the meningitis outbreak last year that killed dozens and infected hundreds more Sunday night, I wondered if so many people would have been affected if assumptions about the quality of the drugs hadn't been made.
I would venture a guess and say that everyone who became infected expected their medicines and treatment wouldn't have been tainted with an invasive fungus. Obviously, it was.
A reasonable person would have assumed that the compounding center that dispensed the medicine would have made drugs on a prescription basis, as compounding centers are required to do. Wrong. New England Compounding Center mass produced the drug, often using fake names to fill the required prescription.
I think the public expects that the Food and Drug Administration would provide oversight to any manufacturer of prescription drugs. Wrong. Congress waived the FDA approval of compounding centers in the late 90s. It's up to the individual state to regulate them. The FDA still oversees pharmaceutical manufacturers, however.
One would think that if the physical wellbeing of a person or group of people has been compromised, a business would change it's practice. Even this is the easiest assumption to debunk, as money makes the world go round in a capitalistic society.
Assumptions rule our nation because no one thinks to ask the tough questions.
In regards to the meningitis outbreak, the victims probably asked how the medicines would help the chronic pain that most were experiencing, how much the drugs cost, etc.
Perhaps a well-formed question could have prevented a deadly outbreak.
This boils down to the daily lives of each and every person. Where do my medicines come from? What's in the food I eat? How is my government spending tax dollars?
Page 2 of 2 - Our nation has become complacent in the realm of knowledge, something that has set America back in terms of world education, and has far-reaching consequences in many aspects of life.
It's time to think critically and ask tough, but smart questions. Clearly, lives depend on it.