As anybody who knows me well can attest, I politically lean quite libertarian-left. However, I do my best to avoid the pitfalls of confirmation bias and tribalism and keep my mind open to unfamiliar points of view. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, confirmation bias is “the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.” No one is immune to confirmation bias, not even the most intelligent among us, but that is no reason to succumb to its allure.
Let’s face it, in today’s world of “alternative facts”, pseudoscience, and fake news (and I don’t mean opposing views), yielding to the effects of confirmation bias is all too easy. Anti-intellectualism is rampant all around the world, and especially in the United States. The need for skepticism is apparent now more than ever, while fewer and fewer people bother to perform a simple Google search to check if the meme they are sharing on Facebook is even remotely accurate.
While I am certainly not a journalist or some sort of expert, here is a basic how-to for fact checking.
- Be skeptical of everything, especially if the story/meme/factoid is appealing to your point of view.
- If an article has no sources, it’s probably bullshit or just trying to start shit.
- If an article does have sources, follow the rabbit hole. See what that source states as its sources and so on.
- Nearly every article has some sort of bias, take everything with a grain of salt.
- Government data and scientific (as in peer-reviewed) sources are usually reliable but don’t pull a single study and tout it as undeniable fact. Look for meta-analyses on the subject (studies that compile the conclusions of many or all studies in the field).
- Always look for other sources of information. If the story is true, it’s likely that more than one news source has reported on it. However, don’t just settle for several articles from the same point of view, look at the subject/situation from other points of view!
Now for the love of all things good and true in this world, use your brain before posting spreading nonsense on the internet! This has always been a pet peeve of mine but has been exacerbated as of late with utter nonsense accepted at face value more and more often it seems. (Hence the blog post)
EDIT/UPDATE: I recently discovered an article that described some useful tools for double checking assertions online.
Jeffrey’s Exif Viewer (see photo data)
Fotoforensics (spot ‘shops)
WolframAlpha (see weather conditions)
As an added bonus, here’s a video by a popular Youtuber (who I’m a fan of) adding his opinion: