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The problem with repeating mistakes
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The problem with repeating mistakes

Inaccuracies get repeated so often they become part of our vocabulary.

Words like motor vs. engine, press vs. media, congressperson vs. representative, fuel vs. energy, stomach vs. abdomen, information vs. intelligence, have been in wide use but are still inaccurate.

A motor is powered by electricity. An engine is powered by fuel, yet we have the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Now there are more electric-powered and hybrid vehicles, so the DMV could more accurately be called the DEMV, Department of Engine and Motor Vehicles.

The Auto Club refers to motorists. How about if they are called drivers? The Indianapolis 500 races begin with the announcement, “Gentlemen, start your engines,” declaring that race cars are powered by engines. The words motor and engine are not the same.

In this age of electronic media, it is inaccurate to call a press conference, when most of the reporters are from TV, radio, or Internet.

In the past the printing press did provide most of our news. But today there are far fewer reporters from print media. More accurately, a meeting to provide news should be called a news conference.

With Twitter, Facebook, TV news programs and other internet sources, breaking news reaches the public immediately.

Many government agencies have public relations persons or public information officers, such as the Santa Maria-Bonita School District, the city of Santa Maria and the Sheriff’s Department. They are responsible for getting information out to the public, with news releases, or as spokespersons for their agency. The public then uses its intelligence to interpret this information.

We accurately call our state Assembly members by the correct designation. However, members of Congress are both senators and representatives. We accurately call a senator by that designation, but members of the House are inaccurately called congressman or congresswoman. News reporters, writers and panel moderators continue this inaccurate designation, so by repeating this error, the public adopts the incorrect title.

Another inaccurate concept is calling oil and gas “energy.” An oil and gas production company is not an energy company. It does not produce energy, it produces oil or gas. The fuel is used to produce energy. The food we eat is the fuel we need to use our bodies. We do not eat energy, we eat food as fuel.

The part of our body below the chest is the abdomen. The stomach is an internal organ. We would not call our abdomen a pancreas. Exercise is to strengthen our ab muscles, not our stomach.

A popular inaccuracy is the mixing of information and intelligence. When a government agency says it is gathering intelligence, it is really getting facts, information, something that is known to be true, to exist or to have happened. The intelligence is the ability to analyze these facts, connect the dots, to apply these facts to other knowledge, to make sense of disparate facts.

Whistle-blowers release information that they believe is critical for the public to know. Freedom for the media to inform us is one of our most precious rights, but accuracy of information is critical and should cause us to think intelligently about this information.

Now there is artificial intelligence (IA), such as ECHO and Viv. These are voice-controlled devices that hear a question, direction or command and process the information to respond.

Hopefully, reporters, writers, TV programs and agencies will begin to use accurate words to describe events and to inform us. Our human intelligence is most useful to us to recognize opinion from facts, and to filter facts through our experiences and knowledge.

Joan Leon is a local resident. She can be reached at joanleon@juno.com. Consider This runs two Sundays a month.

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