(Happy April 1st!)
I’m coming to you today to say something that we’ve never had to say on this blog. We’ve published posts that we’ve come to believe are not true. Many of these got a lot of attention. We did fact check these posts, but our preliminary fact checking turned out to be insufficient. We saw no reason to doubt our sources. That was a mistake. I can say now in retrospect that we should have killed the posts rather than run them.
I should say I am not happy to have to come to you and tell you that something that we presented on this blog as factual is not factual. All of us in public sociology stand together. And I have friends and colleagues on lots of other blogs who, like us here at Sociological Images, work hard to do accurate, independent blogging week in, week out. I and my co-workers here at Sociological Images are not happy to have done anything to hurt the reputation of the blogging that happens on The Society Pages and elsewhere every day. So we want to be completely transparent about what we got wrong and what we now believe is the truth.
And let’s just get to it.
In 2011 we posted about a “push up” bikini top being sold to girls at Abercrombie Kids. We reported that the store marketed its goods to children ages 7 to 14. In fact, young girls are sometimes caught buying clothes at Abercrombie Kids. Abercrombie’s own audit says in 2010, they found 10 stores where 91 young girls bought clothes. But it’s widely acknowledged that Abercrombie’s been aggressive about underage buyers, and they’re rare. We confess that, in fact, we only confirmed that Abercrombie Kids sells to 14-year-olds and so the spread (7-14) was just an effort to cover the ages that we suspected buy Abercrombie products.
In 2010 we posted about a disproportionately high rate of asthma among children living in predominantly minority neighborhoods in Chicago. We discussed meeting with the residents. All these children had been exposed. Their lungs shake uncontrollably. Most of them can’t even drink from a glass. It has come to light that we never met these children. We insist that the story was real, though. Two years ago, children were poisoned and developed asthma. It was all over the news in America. But this didn’t happen in Chicago. It happened nearly 1,000 miles away, in a city called Jacksonville. We saw reports about this in the news and copied and pasted it into our post.
We have been accused of lying about what we saw, but we wouldn’t express it that way. We would say that we wanted to tell a story that captured the totality of our point. And so when we were building the scene of that neighborhood, we wanted to have the voice of this thing that had been happening, that everyone had been talking about. We think the truth always matters and that stories should be subordinate to the truth. That said, we believe that, when we post about it in a blogging context on the web, that when people hear the story in those terms, that we have different languages for what the truth means. We’re not going to say that we didn’t take a few shortcuts in our passion to be heard. But we stand behind the post.
Other things on this blog, it has turned out, are not completed factual.
I once wrote about a poster I saw at The Coffee Bean in Irvine, CA. The truth is, I’ve never been to Irvine, CA. You might have been suspicious at the time. Academics sipping coffee in Orange County? Coffee is pricier in Orange County than in the rest of the U.S. Academics gathering at The Coffee Bean in Irvine is sort of like United Auto Workers in Detroit holding their meetings at a Chinese tea house. I confess, Orange County is out of my price range and, in fact, I’ve never been there.
We also posted a set of vintage ads suggesting that people give guns as Christmas gifts. But there weren’t any guns. The only organizations allowed to have guns in their ads are the military and the police, not gun manufacturers. Otherwise, guns are not allowed to be featured in advertising. It’s illegal. That’s why most of us have never seen a gun in an ad, only in the movies and on TV.
Finally, we described a young woman named Lindsey Lohan who, in posing for German GQ, got her body caught in a photoshopping program; her belly button underwent a twisted migration. We reported that she got no medical attention, and never saw the photos. So we reached into our satchel, and took out our copy of GQ to show her the images. And when she saw them, her eyes widened. Because one of the ultimate ironies of the fashion industry — at this point, the models never get to see the final products. She’d never actually seen a magazine, this thing that took her belly button. She took the magazine and stroked the page and said: “It’s a kind of magic.” Well, it was all a lie. Yes, the woman with the photoshopped belly button existed, but she never posed for GQ. And we made up the whole story about showing her the magazine. We just wanted the post to read like a movie.
I want to say before we leave this subject that I and my co-workers at Sociological Images take our mistakes in putting these posts onto the web very seriously. As I said earlier in this post, we should have killed the posts right there and then. And to do anything else was a screw-up.
We’re kind of sick about this. Because we know that so much of this blog is the best work we’ve ever made. But, unfortunately, lies, half truths, and embellishments on this blog are so widespread, that our only recourse is to retract the entire thing.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.