Academic fake news: “Information Wars” Part 3 of 4

July 25, 2018
Felicia Smith
Textbook warning

Treacherous Textbooks

Thank you for returning for what is undoubtedly the most emotionally charged and provocative part of my four-part blog series about academic fake news. In keeping with the weapons theme, consider this a trigger warning. Beware of landmines! We are encroaching into the Information Wars’ most dangerous minefield, so readers are cautioned to proceed at their own risk. The previous two parts of my series explored predatory journals and counterfeit conferences. This part addresses toxic textbook material. This is a necessary tactical operation because in order to combat these predators and eventually defeat them, we must accurately identify and locate high-value targets (HVT).

I have discussed the troubling trend of predatory publishers purchasing legitimate journals. Unfortunately, that is not the only example of truth being purposefully mixed with falsehood, in academia. Predatory journals and conferences are some of the most dangerous beasts of prey; but they are not the only ones. On the Information Wars’ battleground, textbook predators are much easier to spot, in large part because of their dastardly deeds that are hard to conceal. Sure, some predatory use camouflage to obscure their treachery, but propaganda is a very old and easily identifiable foe. Fortunately, factual information’s central command (CENTCOM) is battle tested and reporting for duty.

Much to my chagrin, textbooks in conjunction with journals and conferences are vulnerable to predatory publishers. Innocent civilians suffer as a result of ingesting this toxic material. Consumers of forged information, unsuspecting authors, and academic credibility are all collateral damage of predatory publishing. Textbook mis-information is especially lethal because this material has been intentionally weaponized. Textbook manipulation has been a part of a long-standing Information War that has often been waged against minorities in this country, since its inception. Textbooks are the most war-torn battlefield in the Great Information Wars. There has been a longstanding, contentious dispute regarding curriculum. There has been a constant heated controversy to determine whose rendition of history will be allowed to build the foundation on which, informed opinions and thoughtful perspectives of the future generations are constructed. Academic fake news in textbooks have been one of the longest lasting battles in this war, and there is no end in sight. Unfortunately, as the proverb says, “Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.”

The basic point of contention requires people wrapped in the flag, to reconcile their romanticized sentimentality of America, with its tainted historical realities. An essential part of education involves reliance on textbooks. That is why learners who are waterboarded with academic fake news in textbooks, will be justifiably skeptical about whether or not everything in their education is factually credible, demonstrably objective and culturally unbiased. Simply put, if they encounter misleading information in one textbook, how can they reasonably trust the rest of the scholarship presented to them?

As a professional librarian, I am concerned about information literacy and critical evaluation skills. As an African American, I agonize over aspects of information literacy mainly impacting underrepresented, minority demographics. Academic fake news negatively impacts everyone. However academic fake news negatively impacts minorities in profoundly different ways and has done so for as long as we have been under the tutelage of the American educational system.

Since I have worked in academic libraries for many years, I am well aware of insidious material lurking in educational settings. One of the most outrageous examples was the McGraw Hill Education’s world-geography textbook that went viral online.  The textbook stated that the Atlantic Slave Trade lasted between the 1500s and 1800s. OK, that part is true.  Regrettably, the following sentence claimed that the “Slave Trade brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.” Ugh. Negative. That is not only deeply insulting but it is clearly not true! Let’s say it all together now, “academic fake news!”

McGraw-Hill characterized this as an “editorial error” and went into damage control after the backlash. We are all familiar with the usual responses, “mistakes were made.” This textbook error somehow escaped the notice of a great many editors, at various levels, ranging from the official textbook reviewers all the way to the Texas Board of Education.  More than 100,000 copies of the book were disseminated throughout the country. Oh, and speaking of Texas State Board of Education, they have developed quite the reputation as the fake news’ elite Special Forces unit. The Texas State Board of Education approves textbooks, curriculum standards, and supplemental materials for many public schools, not just those in Texas. More on them later.

This slaves as workers encroachment was not the only attack on textbook information. There are relentless covert missions invading academic information incessantly in Information War battles. Deplorably, for underrepresented minorities, “fake news” is “old news” especially in education.

Now back to the Texas State Board of Education.  They have actually argued that only white people were responsible for advancing civil rights for minorities in America. Seriously? Wow! Academic fake news doesn’t get more elite than that. But wait, there is more. Oh, yes there is so-o-o much more.

The American Historical Association (AHA) enlisted in the hostilities when a public-school textbook described Mexican Americans, as quote, “stereotypically lazy compared to European or American workers.”Them’s fighting words!

AHA sent a strongly worded letter to the Texas State Board of Education unequivocally characterizing that proposed textbook as “not only racist but also unscholarly.” Shots fired!

These three examples of textbook disinformation; are themselves the textbook definition of academic fake news! Textbook definition… see what I did there?

Whether the above textbook excerpts are innocent editorial snafus or intentionally pernicious is debatable. What is not debatable is the explicit advocacy to exclude information detailing such national injustices, oppressions and misdeeds. These exclusions are racially tinged subversive tactics of the mortally wounded fake news rebel forces. In my humble opinion.

American History Advanced Placement (AP) courses are a frequent battleground for academic fake news invasions. There are repeated nationalistic calls to omit historical accounts from textbooks if the facts make America look bad. Some politicians and Education Board officials want to get rid of certain parts of American history lessons because their delicate sensibilities are offended that real events portray the country negatively. For the record, knowable truths are actual facts. Not alternative facts.

Actual Facts:

  • American minorities were documented victims of negative historical events.
  • Their descendants have an inalienable right to un-adulterated historical records that have not been sanitized.

 

Information being intentionally withheld, maliciously or not, is what I would call “Non-News” or more precisely “Un-News.” No matter what it is called, such exclusions are one of the most virulent forms of academic fake news. The threat level has been raised to that of junk science.

Predatory publishers, of textbooks are intentionally weaponizing information, for nefarious purposes, under the auspices of national pride, patriotism etc. Selective re-telling of history should not just be an issue for minorities. The practice of propagating discriminatory narratives will expand to new targets, if left unchecked. Simply stated, informational malfeasance (fake news) anywhere is a threat to informational integrity everywhere!

Information consumers are forced to seek shelter from the sustained aerial assaults of fanciful accounting and exclusionary historical recounting. Despite certain segments of society that seems willing to accept alternative facts, this scurrilous proclivity is totally unacceptable in academia. There has been considerable resistance to these propagandist strategies. These consumers must duck and cover from the aerial assault by these missiles of mendacity.

These predatory attempts at prevarication in textbooks must be defeated. Unsuspecting students are being inculcated with misinformation as part of what I would call an academic “fake-itude epidemic.” These apocryphal threats, of misleading or omitted information coming from academic fake news firing squads must be neutralized, by any means necessary. This often results in fake news battle fatigue due to the never-ending Information Wars. This constant academic fake news barrage is exhausting. Information freedom fighters may be battered but are not broken. Our information elite fighting forces retaliate by lobbing truth bombs into academic fake news platoons!

Fortunately, there are information infantries that are winning meaningful victories for the underrepresented masses. For instance, California’s information centurions rejected two out of 10 textbooks because they did not adequately include LGBT people. This is one example of consumers voting with their feet. This failure to sell their skewed textbooks was financially damaging to the publisher. For those motivated by financial gain this may be the final salvo in the Great Information Wars of the 21st Century.

There is enormous damage being caused to academia’s credibility as a result of predatory publishers, who have weaponized information. Some are driven by profit motives. Others are motivated by a desire to romanticize the problematic discriminatory events in American history. This demagoguery has created an academic fake news type of (PTSD), Post Truth-Sabotaging Disgust!

Knowable facts are the mightiest weapon in hand-to-hand-combat against textbook material that is provably false.

 

To read suggested solutions, please return tomorrow for the compelling conclusion of my four-part academic fake news series.

Click here to read the first post in this series.

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