Our View: Whales, Matey

At Issue: Educational newspaper uses Internet source, insists whales live in Lake Michigan

Just when one thinks it's common knowledge not to believe everything one reads on the Internet, another story surfaces.

According to a CNN.com report, Michigan grade school teacher Deb Harris was using an educational newspaper in her classroom when she discovered a story she could not believe -- mainly because it wasn't true.

Her copy of "Michigan Studies Weekly," a scholastic newspaper distributed to 462 teachers statewide, reported on the existence of whales in Lake Michigan.

The article reads: "Every spring, the freshwater whales and freshwater dolphins begin their 1,300-mile migration from Hudson Bay to the warmer waters of Lake Michigan."

According to the CNN report, the closest whales actually get to Michigan is the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, where beluga whales make their homes.

Harris made a phone call to Studies Weekly, Inc., based in Utah, where she learned that the editor stood behind the story.

"I've lived here all my life -- there are no whales in Lake Michigan," Harris told the editor.

The company later posted a retraction on its Web site, explaining that the false information came from an Internet site intended as a joke.

Readers can see the false information at: http://www.geocities.com/lakemichiganwhales/

Studies Weekly also took strides to save face.

"We at Studies Weekly want this to be a lesson to you," the apology said. "Not all Web sites are true, and you cannot always believe them. When researching, you should always look for a reliable site that has credentials (proof of truthfulness)."

At least Studies Weekley is passing the proper message along, but the bigger message is that all sources -- not just those obtained via the Internet -- should be double-checked and evaluated. With finals and major papers looming, this is imperative.


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