In the following examples, the words highlighted in red draw attention to the factual statements of the writers.
Facts Used as Evidence
Survival cannibalism occurs when people trapped without food have to decide "whether to starve or eat fellow humans" (Shipman 70). In the case of the Vietnamese refugees [described in a preceding paragraph], the crew and passengers on the boat ate human flesh to stay alive. They did not kill people to get human flesh for nourishment, but instead waited until the people had died. even after human carcasses were sacrificed as food, the boat people ate only enough to survive. another case of survival cannibalism occurred in 1945, when General Douglas MacArthur's forces cut supply lines to Japanese troops stationed in the Pacific Islands. In one incident, Japanese troops were reported to have sacrificed the Arapesh people of northeastern New Guinea for food in order to avoid death by starvation (Tuzin 63). The most famous example of survival cannibalism in American history comes from the diaries, letters, and interviews of survivors of the California-bound Donner Party, who in the winter of 1846 were snowbound in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for five months. Thirty-five of the eighty-seven adults and children died, and some of them were eaten (Hart 116-17; Johnson). (301)
Factual Statements from "Cannibalism: It Still Exists" by Linh Kieu Ngo
The topic of this paragraph is survival cannibalism and it both defines the term and gives examples of it. In so doing, the writer makes use of facts derived from the writings of others which he is careful to document. He cites three factual examples of survival cannibalism. The first occurred among the Vietnamese boat people after the fall of Viet Nam to the communists, the second in World War II in the Pacific, and the third in California in 1846. These examples are documented incidents which really happened. They are factual and provide valid evidence that survival cannibalism remains a real occurrence.
Comment on Linh Kieu Ngo
Another cause for the intolerance of boyish behavior is the current school system. It is more group-oriented than ever before, leaving little room for the jokester, the tough, the tortured individualist. American children are said to be excessively coddled and undisciplined, yet in fact they spend less time than their European or Japanese counterparts at recess, where kids can burn off the manic energy they've stored up while trapped in the classroom. Because boys have a somewhat higher average metabolism than do girls, they are likely to become more fidgety when forced to sit still and study. (416)
From "Intolerance of Boyish Behavior" by Natalie Angier
Angier's essay is written in the cause and effect mode and the topic sentence clearly states her opinion about one cause for the intolerance of boyish behavior. This opinion is supported by two factual statements. These are the assertions that American school children "spend less time than their European or Japanese counterparts at recess" and that "boys have a somewhat higher average metabolism than do girls." The consequences of these facts account for the likely hood that boys will act up more in class, while at the same time the "group-oriented" regime of the schools pressure them to be quiet, stay in their places, and cooperate. The statements about recess and metabolism are factual statements because they can be verified by reference to government statistics on school curricula and on medical studies respectively.
Comment on Angier
Small islands, furthermore, usually have small mammals: island races of horses are usually dwarfed, such as those on the Shetland Islands, Iceland, and the Japanese Islands. Deer, too, become dwarfed on islands, as seen in the key deer of Florida and the sika deer of Japan. The gray fox of Catalina Island off the coast of southern California, does not reach the same size as the same species living on the mainland. . . . (Farb 59)
From Ecology -- Island Mammals
This paragraph is taken from a chapter that discusses the effects of an environment on the creatures that live in it. The topic sentence asserts that one effect of an isolated island environment is that the mammals who live there are smaller than their counterparts on the continents. This is a factual statement that is based on the evidence of observation, and the sentences which follow are also factual statements that serve as evidence. The statements about the horses, deer, and fox have been verified by scientists weighing and measuring the animals and making comparisons to their kin in other places. The distinguishing feature of a factual statement is that it can be proven to be true or false by reference to some source other than the person who makes the assertion.
Comment on Island Mammals
The real damage [to the native ecology of New Zealand] began when European man arrived with his own brands of rats and dogs. In his second visit to New Zealand in 1773, and again in 1777, Captain Cook introduced the sheep, goat, pig, fowl, potato, cabbage, turnip and other aliens; visits by other explorers and whalers stocked the islands with still more alien plants and animals. It was a general practice at that time for ships to bring animals with them, which they liberated on many islands that seemed capable of supporting them. The incentives were a future food supply of fresh meat and a well-intentioned attempt to benefit the natives. Later, European birds such as the blackbird and the song thrush were introduced, and so were plants such as the blackberry and the brier rose. This was a double-barrelled error, for these birds have largely been responsible for the enormous spread of these almost-ineradicable plants. Rabbits became a serious problem by 1870; to control them, additional introductions of carnivorous mammals had to be made, such as weasels and ferrets. The result has been that both carnivores and the rabbits remain abundant. (Farb 61)
From Ecology -- Alien Species
The topic sentence of this paragraph asserts that there was an acceleration of damage to the ecology of New Zealand after the Europeans began to introduce large numbers of alien species. This is a statement of fact, not just the writer's opinion, since it is verified by the historical record of the introductions and the consequences to the environment that have been subsequently observed. The supporting sentences are all factual statements that name some of the species introduced. The remainder of the paragraph, omitted for brevity, names other species that were introduced and states some of the damaging consequences.
Comment on Alien Species
When the first Frenchmen reached America, we do not know. Certainly by 1500 Breton fishermen were frequenting th banks of Newfoundland in search of fish. Inn comparison with the flow of wealth from Spanish America, the modest profits from the fisheries hardly satisfied the imaginative mind of the French, and for a century spasmodic but unsuccessful efforts at exploration and colonization were made. French Huguenots attempted settlements in Brazil (1555) and Florida (1564), but were ousted by the Portuguese and Spaniards, and the efforts to establish permanent settlements on the banks of the St. Lawrence were equally futile. In the sixteenth century, the energies of France were absorbed by civil and religious wars; the seventeenth century saw the erection of a strong central government and a powerful national state, and at the same time renewed effort toward empire-building. (Faulkner 23)
From American Political and Social History -- The French in America
The writing of history often involves both the statement of facts and an interpretation of those facts. Sometimes the facts are specific (the French Huguenots attempted a settlement in Brazil in 1555), and sometimes they are summary statements (in the seventeenth century France saw "renewed effort toward empire-building"). But in either case, the facts may be independently verified by consulting historical records.
Comment on the French in America
Note, however, that generalizations gradually merge into interpretations, which are statements of opinion rather than fact. True dichotomies are often lacking, and what we have are continuums rather than discreet categories. So it might be suggested that the more specific the factual statement is, the more valid it is likely to be.
It is certainly easier to verify that the French attempted a settlement in Brazil in 1555 than that the civil and religious wars in the sixteenth century were a significant impediment to France's efforts to establish overseas colonies. This conclusion is no doubt true, but the point is that it is more difficult to establish this as a fact because of the scope of the statement and the corresponding number of individual facts on which it is based; the more numerous the facts, the more work is involved in their independent verification, and the more open the aggregate is to a general interpretation. Others looking at the same set of facts may induce a different conclusion.
The name of this family does not signify carnivorous habits, for the insects are all leafeaters, but refers to the colors of the adults. In contrast with their somber-colored relatives, the owlet moths, the tiger moths are generally brightly marked with contrasty colors,splashed on as by irresponsible fancy in quaint futuristic patterns of geometric lines and spots. The prevailing colors are white, black, and various shades of pin, red, orange, and yellow. They have a somewhat delicate appearance, the wings being thin, fine-scaled, graceful in shape,and the body free from long course hairs. In size (3/4 to 3 inches across the wings), shape of wings, and body build they are similar to the Noctuids, from which they are distinguishable by the course of veins in the hind wings: in the tiger moths there is only one vein in front of the large, closed, discal cell for a considerable part of its length; in the owlet moths two veins stand between the discal cell of the hind wing and the costal margin, throughout most of its length. (Metcalf and Flint 261).
From Destructive and Useful Insects -- Family Arctidae. Tiger Moths.
As the title of this book suggests, this is a scientific text, and so we would expect its content to be factual, as indeed it is. In the paragraph above, the physical description of the tiger moth is detailed, and every observation can be verified by independent examination of a specimen. However, it is interesting that in this presentation of facts, the author uses poetic imagery to convey the visual impact of these showy insects.
Comment on Tiger Moths
The author writes that in contrast to "their somber-colored relatives, the owlet moths, the tiger moths are generally brightly marked with contrasty colors, splashed on as by irresponsible fancy in quaint futuristic patterns of geometric lines and spots." Thus, we see that in science it is sometimes necessary to generalize by the use imagery and metaphor when a simple recitation of facts is insufficient to convey the full impact of a phenomenon.
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