This blog post is inspired by Thorin Klosowski’s Lifehacker article: How to Spot Truth in the Sea of Lies, Rumors, and Myths on the Internet.
“The internet is full of crap … Separating truth from fiction is equal parts a mental battle and diligent research.” We believe and hold on to all sorts of non-truths in our heads through three foundations: Belief Perseverance, Confirmation Bias and the Bandwagon Effect.
Belief Perseverance: the longer we hold on to a belief, the harder it is for us to challenge that belief.
Confirmation Bias: selective blindness to evidence that contradicts our belief.
Bandwagon Effect: we tend to do what other people in our group are doing.
“spotting misinformation [is] difficult because we believe just about anything if we want it to be true. The only fix is [awareness].” The article then went on to discuss several tools for separating the mis from the information.
What I felt the author failed to address is, how do we learn (and teach) health scepticism? Without scepticism, the ability to question anything, even the long-held, personal truths; how can we hope to ever feel then “something is not right” with a piece of information?
I think the question of learning/teaching scepticism is the critical point of this article.
Once we have the awareness of “something is not right”, we can begin to take steps to verify and check what we have been told.
The first wedge in the problem is asking the question “How do you know…?” The article quoted author Scott Berkun thus:
The first detection tool is a question: How do you know what you know? Throw this phrase down when someone force feeds you an idea, an argument, a reference to a study or over-confidently suggests a course of action. People so rarely have their claims challenged, that asking someone to explain how they know sheds light on whatever ignorance they’re hiding.
Once the opening wedge has hit home, the research tools come into effect to dismantle the remainder of the dubious foundation.
If the information turns out to be truthful, a new, stronger, foundation based on evidence is then built to support this newly verified truth.
The end goal is truth that is verifiable by evidence.