Last week, one item that grabbed many readers’ attention was the fact that their sweet, fuzzy kitty cat was also a killing machine. Cats are apparently killing billions of other critters each year. Obviously, the greatest damage is done by feral cats and those house cats who are allowed outside. It even made the nightly news. Then the rebuttal began. First, it was the cats. Then there was the article that looked at how the statistics were gathered in the first place.
It’s enough to make your head spin, or at least it did mine. But it reminded of an important point. Critical reading skills have always been important, but perhaps never more so than in an age where the sound bite rules. As readers and viewers, we have to be able to look behind the quick presentation to find the whole picture. Sometimes, just like in The Wizard of Oz, when we look behind the curtain , we may find that the big scary story may be nothing but a dressed-up shadow man.
Now I would argue that the cat story can’t be that big of a surprise. Anyone who has ever owned a cat knows that the critters kill. I remember coming home once as a kid to find my cat Charlie in full battle with a spreading adder, a snake that looks enough like a cobra to make me think we had full-fledged version of “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” going on at my house. And more than once, I heard my mother scream only to find that one of our cats had brought in a mouse, more or less dead.
No matter how the statistics are analysed in this case, cats are going to kill things, and that should make a difference in what we do with feral cats and whether or not we let our own cats outdoors. (And even if you don’t care about birds and moles as victims, please remember that once you let your cat outside, she (In my childhood world, cats were always girls.) becomes a possible victim as well.
Every day we are inundated with news stories of studies and experiments that indicate we are eating too much meat, eating too little meat, should have more mammograms, should wait to have mammograms, etc. Proponents and opponents of every controversy throw out sound bites that sound fairly convincing. Sometimes folks are definitely trying to trick us; sometimes they’re not. But in any case, we need to be better receivers of information (whether printed or broadcast or sent through telepathy)
So for the next few Tuesdays, the Jolly Librarian will take a look at critical reading.