The Devil’s Advice: 3 tools to identify misinformation and fake news in times of confusion

In my previous article – THE DEVIL SPEAKS BRIEFLY OF MISINFORMATION AND DISINFORMATION OR BEING MISINFORMED – I claimed that misinformation is one of humanity’s most dangerous enemies. 

I stand by my words. Fake news and political propaganda campaigns have the power to divide people into tribes that disagree on anything from social policy to objective scientific values and life-saving medicine. 

And they have done that. 

The era of alternative facts results from people in positions of influence believing that their uneducated interpretation of evidence-based science is as valid as that of the scientists or experts working to understand that evidence. 

The reasons people misrepresent the truth are many and often as diverse as people themselves. 

The exercise of understanding why people reject sound arguments and valid evidence is a difficult one, but it can be fruitful when it intends to improve the human condition. And humans, it seems, are more emotional and less rational than they know. I applaud anyone taking on the project of understanding how they think. 

I can, especially given my disposition to judgement, speak loudly and openly about intellectual dishonesty. However, as much as my heart – a heart forged in fire and brimstone – desires torment for those who willingly surrender their rational faculties to nonsense, I must continue with the task at hand. 

1 Scepticism 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Being sceptical is the ability to or the attitude of approaching all information with healthy doubt. It is the ability to suspend judgement until the facts are verified. 

Now, for anyone to indulge in this attitude correctly, they need to define the word fact properly. A fact is something that can be matched to and corroborated with readily available evidence. 

No, the word of your favourite social media personality or your buddy Joe isn’t a fact regardless of how cute they are. They also have to provide solid evidence of their claims. 

Evidence must be observable and measurable to reasonably back up a fact. 

For example, you can justify the claim that one plus one is two by bringing two physical objects together and observing – or measuring – the quantity they produce.  

2 Motive

Photo by Burst

Always question a source’s motive. I’ll give you examples for this one. 

First, a prominent scientist named Frederick Seitz, a leading member of the Oregon Petition, claimed extensively that the effects of smoking on human health were unproven. He also opposed the idea of anthropogenic climate change with very elegant scientific-sounding rhetoric. His accolades and credentials make Seitz seem credible in his contention of both issues. Still, it is also public knowledge that he was heavily involved with the Tabacco and Oil corporations. 

While his scientific background is respectable, his financial involvement with both industries is critical to understanding his motives and or intentions. 

It can be said that he engaged in disinformation.

Second, The Cornwall Declaration, the authors of An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming, is a religious conservative group that claimed that a free-market approach was preferable over critical, science-based measures to care for the environment. Their appeals cited theology, misguided economics, and science to undermine the idea of human-caused global warming. 

Criticism of the group cited direct ties to The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, a free-market advocacy group funded by oil industry conglomerates Chevron and Exxon-Mobile. 

It is possible in both examples that their affiliations to questionable industries are merely circumstantial, but they offer good enough reason to, as I said before, question their motives and intentions. 

3 Emotion

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

How an idea feels to you is not a good indicator of its truth value. The most important scientific truths are indifferent to your feelings. The shape of the earth and the molecular composition of water don’t change because you want them to.

No, it does not matter how badly you want them to change or that your cute buddy Joe said they would.

Understand that an idea that contradicts something you think is true might upset you. And that two people can feel differently about the same event depending on their perspective.  Feelings are subjective.

Your feelings, and I say this understanding that humans are emotional animals, are no criterion by which to measure the truth of any claim. 

Do your best to detach yourself from the process of investigating news so you can look at the available evidence as objectively as possible. 

Moving on.

These three tools are a good starting point in identifying misinformation and what we now know as fake news. But, they are only a starting point. Hard work is needed to correct the human responsibility to credulity and the propensity for irrational emotion. 

— A Sceptical Devil

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Refferences

Frederick Seitz

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Seitz

https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB834512411338954000

Cornwall Alliance

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornwall_Alliance

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skeptical_Science

3 Comments

  1. Scepticism, Motive, and Emotion are three very valid points.
    I agree that facts must have solid backing, not just whims and fancies that delight the ego and warm the pockets.
    I think the pandemic has been a time when misinformation has spread like wildfire. And there have been several reasons for this. The first and foremost, I believe, is fear. The fear of the unknown which was closely followed by the crazy antics of disbelievers. Opposing everything for the sake of dim-witted propaganda.
    I feel we are still being misled and the end to this is nowhere near.
    Your articles are so meaningful and honest. 🙂

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