The most important question to keep in mind when reading any non-fiction article is “Why?” If you want to be a thinker and not just consumer of news and information, you need to challenge assumptions and think critically about whatever it is that is being shoveled at you.
Here is an example. In the May 2006 issue of National Geographic Magazine, there is a small section called “Geography.” (It’s not online so I’ll summarize and excerpt in context.) It’s entitled, “Marrying young.” It presents a large map of the world indicating “female minimum legal age of marriage,” and the lede asserts, without evidence: “Where food is scarce and violence common, parents may try to cope by marrying their daughters off—usually to much older men—as soon as the girls enter puberty.” Where is this? Cite real places. Cite numbers.
The article goes on: “Pregnancy is the number one cause of death worldwide among girls between the ages of 15 and 19.” Why? For one thing, pregnancy does not cause death; in fact, it causes life. What happens is that complications related to pregnancy can cause death. That’s different and we address that not by saying that pregnancy is the problem, but that the sources of complications are the problem. Rather than say that women should not have children, we should be saying that we need to solve problems of malnutrition, pre-natal health care, treatment of disease, and childbirth practices.
The article continues and says the following: “Throughout sub-Saharan Africa girls’ and women’s chances of contacting HIV substantially increase after they marry.” Why? Is it because of marriage or because rates of contracting AIDS increase for all women above a certain age? What is happening to these women? Is it infidelity in marriage? What happens to the chances of contracting HIV for men after they marry? Are they the same? Less? More? We don’t know because the article doesn’t tell us.
The author and the magazine have a particular point to make: Marriage and pregnancy are bad for women and so any facts that do not serve this viewpoint are avoided. This is very common in journalism and the reader and viewer would be well served to keep this in mind when reading and viewing anything presented to them in the guise of “truth.”
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