There are many clever terms of derision in business, “Power Point Rangers” and “Pager People” come to mind. PC* has added to our lexicon, with a “softer” tone often accompanied by a blunter edge, e.g., “knowledge challenged” and “factually unencumbered.” It is in this derisive context that we should interpret the term “Internet-Investigator” (II for short, pronounced aye-aye).
The II is a dedicated amateur using all of the (free) tools at their disposal. Common tools such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, MySpace, Twitter, and LinkedIn — as well as more sophisticated services like Intelius and Facebook provide them guidance. Once on a mission, the II’s objective is to uncover information about people and their business using association web sites, newspapers, periodicals, journals and blog posts. The II does not rise to the heights scaled by the “pajamas media.” Gigabits of data are gathered in pursuit of a thread, a morsel, a kernel — anything that challenges the accepted truth. That’s right, the II lives to make people wrong. Success is found in the “Ah-ha!” moments of discovery experienced in the dark corners of a weak mind. IIs are becoming a plague — a vile stinking plague on the Internet.
Why? They don’t know what they are doing, they have no framework to interpret their research, they lack information parsing skills, they make assumptions about data, lack of data, and conflicting data, in any way that supports their preconceived narrative. It’s as if they don’t understand that the Internet has no editor and has not been fact checked. Here’s another interesting fact – the Internet is not complete either.
Some background is in order. I’ve had several securities licenses, though I gave them up long ago. An attorney who was drubbing me in a voir dire proceeding had checked FINRA, and could not find me in the FINRA database. She called me a liar in open court because she could not find my records on the Internet. Thankfully, this had happened before and I knew the issue — FINRA only keeps license information for three years after a license is inactive or withdrawn. My securities licenses went inactive in the late 1980’s (It’s not that long ago – I can’t be that old!). My response was matter of fact,
“Madam Attorney, if you looked up the information on FINRA, as you told me, you obviously do not understand the limits of the information. FINRA only has the last three years of data for inactive licenses.”
This twit still did not understand her error. She asked question after question on my credentials — trying to find a hole. Understand, I have only claimed what I have solid proof of. I claim to have authored six books. I have authored more, but six I will claim (the approach some people take toward children). She could only find four books, the four in print. I showed her copies of two that are (thankfully) out of print. She said that my claim of having been to over forty countries was a sham and a boast. I showed her copies of my last three passports, including the extensions, as well as my Green Card – Working Card for China. She kept going on, and I responded.
After forty-five minutes I got irritated, and stated without prompt, “It seems you are trying to impeach me for your failures as an II – you have no skills in investigation whatsoever. You assume that since you cannot find it on the Internet or in a database it cannot possibly exist. I was alive before the Internet, and lots of stuff happened before the Internet.”
Her incredulous response was, “You could not have possible done all of this…” while waving my CV in my face. My answer, leaning back with a smile on my face, “I did, I did everything in that document and more. I did it before home video games, satellite sports channels, and chose not to sit on my ass in front of a TV or the Internet thinking that was my world. My world is outside this building in a land of deeds and action, not in front of a stupid terminal. I’ll tell you something more — under oath — I have run with the bulls in Pamplona, rode horses, mules, an elephant, and a camel. I have followed the steps of Alexander The Great in Samarqand, been on Safari, fished and hunted around the world. My life is about doing, not talking and blogging.
It was the wrong response — and I knew it. She knew her case was bad, and she had found a weakness in me. I had dropped my guard, to both of our surprise (thankfully it never happened in the trial). After the trial and before the verdict she asked me out for a drink with her and her prosecution team. The one question they asked is, “How have you done all of this and why?” — pointing to my CV. My answer was, because it has pleased me. I have an adventurous itch, and I scratch it.
Back to the point. IIs lack a framework for knowledge. In this case, simply because information cannot be found on the Internet does not mean it does not exist, or that what is found is complete. When information can not be found, it means – here’s the stretch – that it cannot be found.
“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” — Nassim Taleb
Similarly, because something can be found on the Internet does not mean that it is true. The Internet is, at best, a tertiary source of information – three generations away from reliable records. A story sourced on the Internet requires validation by source documents before it rises to a level where it can be admitted into a real court — as opposed to the kangaroo court of the II blogger (no offense to any kangaroos reading this).
1. Not everything is on the Internet, or available in databases.
2. The Internet has no editor, so what you read on the Internet may not be correct.
3. The Internet is not a primary or secondary source of information — it is a tertiary source of information at best.
4. The role of an investigator is not to draw conclusions — ever. The role of an investigator is to present the facts, and only the facts, while citing the source of the information.
5. IIs will get it wrong again and again because a) they do not know what they are doing; b) they have no system for the gathering and presenting facts; c) they have no idea what they’ve found after they find it; d) they generally lack even a modicum of professionalism and knowledge of the scientific method. Their mission is to be right and make other wrong.
Remember, the more rabid the writing is, the more likely you are reading the research of an II.
* PC, for the benefit of our many foreign readers, is an abbreviation for “Political Correctness.” It refers to acting and communicating in a manner that no one could possibly take any offense to. Political Correctness is eerily similar to Stalinist orthodoxy. Texas A&M University holds an annual contest searching for the most appropriate definition of a contemporary term, in 2007 that term was “Political Correctness.” Following is the winning entry.
“Political Correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical, liberal minority and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end.”