THINKERS WANTED

Are you certain of your facts? Is this the whole truth? What are your starting points, and those of what you are reading, seeing or hearing? What are your biases, prejudices, and discriminations, and those of the article/video you are viewing? 

Are you certain of your facts? Do you personally know that they represent the truth? Or, are you, like most, sharing what someone else claims to have researched, with no personal knowledge or expertise? The last bastion of reliability for modern society: scientific research and the press have been conclusively demonstrated to be unreliable. Much research has been conducted and many articles have been written about plagiarism, about faking facts/news (e.g., Jayson Blair of NYTimes, Jack Kelley of USA Today, Dr. Udo Ulfkatte, editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of Europe’s leading newspapers, to name just a few), about irreplicability of research, and so on. It is a scandal that seems to be out of control. So, how does one avoid fake facts/news? (1) I pull from a variety of sources from many nations and languages, across the political spectrum, etc.; (2) I use trusted sources, those that have not deceived me before; (3) I check their sources as far back as possible and research the author; (4) I triangulate/corroborate between 2 or more different sources; (5) I try to find local corroboration from someone I know and/or someone with precise expertise. Nothing is foolproof. Yet, these are ways to limit fake news and be somewhat certain of the facts.

Is this the whole truth? Most people and news agencies give only part of the truth, the part that reinforces what they believe, and inadvertently or deliberately leave out the rest. Just like the old observation: “It takes two to tango,” every situation is more complex than one side/version. If all the sources say pretty much the same thing, my fake news antennae begin to vibrate. On the other hand, if I cannot find other/conflicting points of view/facts, or if I find their corroboration, I may have to extend a conditional reliability score. Note: it may be “from left field” for most, but Jewish sources, are more often than not more reliable and more apt to give more than one side, which is not to say that they are true or don’t shade truth.

What are your starting points, or the starting points of what you are reading, seeing or hearing? Do you know the difference between a territory and a map? If you believe that you know the whole truth about something or somebody, or that truth/reality consists of everything you can imagine or know about, most probably reality, for you, is idea-based. That covers most people these days. Imagine a territory, such as your state or nation. That is reality. It is made up of real atoms and molecules, dirt, water, air, vegetation, people, etc. Maps of your state or nation are people’s ideas or theories about your reality. Some come closer than others to depicting the reality. But they are not the same. If the article or source uses a lot of words like: ‘idea,’ ‘concept,’ ‘what people think,’ ‘say,’ ‘believe,’ ‘taken as,’ ‘is like,’ etc., you are reading/listening to/seeing a map, not reality. That is why actions like triangulation are so important. And, it helps to try to be as concrete ‘territory’/reality-based as possible to begin with. It is harder to be fooled.

What are your biases, your prejudices, your discrimination? Biases determine which facts you tend to ignore and which you tend to select. What are your prejudices? These exhibit what you think, say and do on the basis of your biases and partial/selective facts. Discrimination happens when you make choices on the bases of these biases and prejudices. Everybody has them. No one is neutral or without bias, prejudice and discrimination. The one who yells the loudest or protests the longest that they do not have these are the very most dangerous, because they are either fooling themselves or trying to fool you. I try to let people and events point out/remind me of my biases, prejudices and discriminations, and to be forthright about them rather than cover them up, as is my natural tendency. Additionally, I have a fairly simple tool to help me recognize these in the things I read, see and hear.

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