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The Surprising Cost of Free—from Lunch to Research

From an early age, we hear phrases like, "There's no such thing as a free lunch," "Free comes at a price" and "Nothing is free." These sayings capture the truth that there are few things in life that are truly given at no cost—there are usually strings, or at least expectations, attached.

This aphorism, "There's no such thing as a free lunch," has concrete historical roots. During the mid-1800s, taverns would often advertise a "free lunch" to lure customers. They would promote that if one bought a drink they'd get a free lunch. Of course, the lunch was not truly "free."

In her 1967 book, "The New Orleans Restaurant," Deirdre Stanforth claims that the practice began in the French Quarter of New Orleans at the St. Louis Hotel. The hotel offered a free lunch to businessmen who were not able to get home for lunch. With salty items like roasted meats, caviar and cheese, patrons coming in for free food would end up paying for several drinks. The practice caught on by many drinking establishments to entice guests to order more drinks.

According to Stanforth, these lunches were, at first, elaborate spreads of roasted meats, caviar, oysters, potatoes and more, but were reduced to sliced meats, cheese and bread as time went on. By the mid-20th century, a "free lunch" was nothing more than complimentary pretzels, potato chips, peanuts, etc.—still salty, but the kind of snacks we expect at a bar today.

Open Web

The same is true of information. When using the "free web," the costs are risk and time—risk that information or data is inaccurate and the time it takes for you to sift through large amounts of data to find relevant pieces. From journalists to business analysts, many are learning the hard way that there can be fairly serious ramifications of relying solely on the open web. And, for Millennials who grew up using Google as the go-to research tool, it's important to point out that Internet searching was never intended to serve as an authoritative research platform.

Consider these recent incidents:

  • Some media outlets published a study that found blondes are going extinct, but discovered later that it was based on an errant online posting.
  • The faux pas of a History Channel documentary with a theory for Amelia Earhart's disappearance that relied on a critical piece of evidence—which was quickly refuted upon airing of the production.
  • More than a few journalists have mistakenly reported news from satirical news sites.

Start with Free. But Move to Secure.

Granted, there is clear economic value in using the free web as a starting point, but to gain confidence in the integrity and reliability of the information found, you need to go to a trusted source. Preferably, use a solution that collects reliable sources from a wide variety of outlets to get a complete and balanced view. Also, since there are millions of articles and reports out there to dig through, so use a solution that brings them together for easy, quick searching and filtering. Read more about the importance of collecting data that is proven and reliable.

The Next Time

So, the next time you enter an inquiry into the Google search bar—or enjoy a snack at the bar—remember, nothing in life is free.

3 Ways to Apply This Information Now:

  1. Check out this white paper on fighting fake news!
  2. Read about The Facebook files, machine learning and fake news continues.
  3. Learn more about how Nexis and research can provide better information, better results.

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