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Pandemic Moment: your guide to critically thinking about information

Telling a thoughtful story through linear time




"The science of computing and adjusting time or periods of time, and of recording and arranging events in the order of time: computation of time, assignation of events to their correct dates."

This definition issues from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)*.  

*As you might expect, the library collects many dictionaries of various sorts, in print.  Unfortunately, as you know, the library buildings are not open at this time.  However, in case the big words of the news are causing you to have a disproportionate amount of fear, the library has the entire OED accessible online!

Furthermore, there are many other fascinating kinds of dictionaries wrapped up in some of our e-collections, such as Credo Reference.

Revisiting the Definition

Taking a careful look at the definition:



"The science of computing and adjusting time or periods of time, and of recording and arranging events in the order of time: computation o time, assignation of events to their correct dates."

For our consideration, we will concern ourselves with these sections, "recording and arranging events in the order of time" and "assignation of events to their correct dates."  Reliable definitions stick like glue to the core meaning of a word and do not meander, as in the example above.

Notice that in defining chronology, there is no mention of how the discrete events are or are not related to each other, how much emphasis each event is to be given, or even what kinds of events are to be included in a chronology and what events are to be excluded.

The only criteria is that events must be arranged, assigned, and recorded according to their order in time.

Therefore, in any chronology a wide latitude is given to the writer for shaping a story.  In this respect we should be vigilant about how chronologies are read, and not fall victim to the implied authority in the common understanding of the word chronology.

Chronologies in the News

Some news outlets have adopted the chronology format to report the news.  The sample below was taken from the Toronto Star's chronology during March 30th and March 31st.  The sample is representative of the two days.  The Star has focused on Canadian and some international events that speak to the growing number of cases and deaths, along with increasing emergency measures, and stories of despair.

It may be argued that this news outlet has chosen to add a disproportionate amount of fear to their reporting, under the guise of the implied authority of the common understanding of chronology.  (By this, I mean the common assumption that chronicle implies completeness, precision and trueness, without error or the need for interpretation.)  As you can see, it is a true chronology, adhering to the meaning of the word that we discussed above.  However, The Star has chosen to shape the story to its own purposes, giving emphasis where it chooses, leaving some things out, and so forth.  In our own personal critical thinking about information this is a feature that we should be aware of.

Incidentally, during this time frame, a 98 year old Iranian woman recovered from the virus after a 27 day stay in a hospital in the holy city of Mashhad.  Perhaps we should ask the Toronto Star editors why this story and stories like it are left out of their chronologies.

(March 31)

12:30pm: Ontario's regional public health units were reporting 2,193 confirmed or presumptive cases of COVID-19, with 45 deaths...

11:02am: Schools in Ontario to remain closed until at least May...

10:40am: Ontario is reporting 260 more COVID-19 cases (or an increase of about 15 percent from the previous day)...

8:45am: Officials in Florida are meeting later today to decide whether to let the infection-plagued cruise ship MS Zaandam dock...

6:47am: Spain recorded on Tuesday 849 new coronavirus deaths...

4:01am: The union representing Canada Post employees is asking Canadians to disinfect their mail boxes...

4:01am: New York's governor issued an urgent appeal for medical volunteers...

(March 30)

9:46pm: The governors of New York and California are moving to rapidly expand the ranks of health-care workers, as the death toll from COVID-19 in New York surged past 1,200...

8:56pm: Ontario is issuing a new emergency order under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act to close all outdoor recreational amenities...

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