Critical Thinking 101 – Spotting Fact Imposters

by Dr. David Gruder

Just as today’s U.S. food supply is dominated by fake food, today’s U.S. fact supply is dominated by fake facts. Just as most of us eat massive amounts of fake food without regard for how ill it is making us individually, most of us swallow massive amounts of fake facts without regard for how ill they are making us as a society. Just as health self-responsibility starts with learning how to distinguish between fake food and real food, social responsibility starts with learning how to distinguish fake facts from real facts.

This post shows you how to upgrade your ability to distinguish between true facts and "fact imposters." The starting place is understanding the difference between a fact, an interpretation and a conclusion.

Facts

A fact is objective observation or data.

  • Fact Example #1: You are currently reading an IntegrityWatch Blog post written by David Gruder on April 15, 2010 in San Diego, California.
  • Fact Example #2: President Obama wore a red tie during the group photograph session at the Security Summit on April 2010 in Washington, DC.

While it’s possible to not like certain facts denying true facts is an attempt to rewrite reality to match a belief system.

Fundamental integrity demands presenting facts factually, objectively, impartially, in context, and without omission. Factual integrity means telling "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God."

"Fact Literacy" Upgrade Tasks: Learn to tell the difference between true facts and fake facts (lies or interpretations masquerading as facts). Learn to sense when you might not have been provided with all the facts you need before you can form accurate interpretations or useful conclusions.

Interpretations

An interpretation is not a fact. It is a way of assigning meaning to a fact or set of facts. In other words, an interpretation is a perspective, an opinion, an analysis.

  • Interpretation Example #1: I might be writing this blog post because I am trying to make a positive difference, because I am trying to covertly and subversively manipulate people, or because I am a misguided
  • Interpretation Example #2: President Obama was making a covert statement to the world through his tie color choice for this event.

While true facts are indisputable, interpretations are points of view. that might be agreed with in full, agreed with in part or disagreed with. Far too often, though, interpretations are hijacked by attempting to manipulate others into believing naively over-positive or horribly over-negative things about the intention behind what a person is communicating, what a proposed policy is "really" trying to do, or what an ideology is "really" trying to accomplish.

Fundamental integrity demands distinguishing fact from interpretation, and weighing multiple potential interpretations of a full set of true facts with an open mind. Fundamental integrity means making interpretations with the humility that says I would be arrogant to assume that my way of assigning meaning to these facts is necessarily the most accurate or most useful way to interpret them.

"Interpretations Literacy" Upgrade Tasks: Learn to sense when you are being covertly led into supporting an interpretation that someone else wants you to have. Learn to spot when propaganda tactics are being used to manipulate people into adopting a particular point of view.

Conclusions

A conclusion is a position or solution (course of action) that is advocated after having thoroughly analyzed a wide range of potential ways to interpret a complete set of true facts. Labels.

  • Faulty Conclusion Example #1: I must hate America because I am teaching something in this blog post that rattles Americans’ rights to come to their own conclusions. (Accurate Conclusion #1: I have concluded that the America I love has been vanishing in large part because far too many Americans take harmful stands [conclusions] on issues because they have formed deeply flawed interpretations because these have been based on on fake and/or incomplete facts.)
  • Faulty Conclusion Example #2: President Obama wore a red tie to show the world that he is more loyal to Chairman Mao and Red China than to the United States. (Accurate Conclusion #2: I have concluded that I do not have a complete enough set of facts to legitimately make an interpretation about President Obama’s motives for wearing a red tie at this event, let alone reach a conclusion about what I think about his decision.)

"Leading the witness" is not allowed in court for a reason: the purposes behind this strategy are to manipulate witnesses into saying something they don’t actually mean and to manipulate juries into false conclusions. Far too often, people are covertly hijacked into supporting positions, solutions, and candidates through having been fooled into believing they have reached their conclusions through having been provided with a full set of true facts and through having been propagandized into believing that there is only one legitimate way to interpret those "facts."

Fundamental integrity requires reaching conclusions only after having weighed with an open mind multiple ways of interpretating a full and complete set of facts. Reaching conclusions in any other way means it is more important to cling to a preconception or belief system than to discover sustainable solutions.

"Conclusions Literacy" Upgrade Task: Practice abstaining from conclusions until first having acquired a complete set of true facts and having then considered with an open mind a range of potential interpretations of those facts.

You Be the Judge

I believe I am watching alleged conservatives make the father of modern conservatism, William F. Buckley, roll over in his grave. There was a time when true Conservatives would never have tolerated lying about facts, manipulating people into adopting their opinions or frightening people into reaching their conclusions. There was a time when true conservatives believed that the ends didn’t justify the means; that intellectual integrity was the right and ethical way to win people over to their perspectives and positions. There was a time when true conservatives believed that if they could not win people over in these ways their perspectives and positions didn’t deserve to be supported.

Not so any more. Watch this video to see what I mean (after you click start there might be a delay before the video starts):

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon – Thurs 11p / 10c
The Big Bang Treaty
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Now watch this video… (after you click start there might be a delay before the video starts)

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon – Thurs 11p / 10c
A Farewell to Arms
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

By no stretch of the imagination do I believe that Fox — or fake conservatism — is alone in being purveyors of fake facts and covert opinion manipulation based on those fake facts. MSNBC — and fake liberalism — also do this. It’s just that Fox is so much better at this than anyone else today that they provide some of the most blatantly instructive examples.

The best solution to fake facts is nonpartisan fact checking. Watch Stephen Colbert satirize a new fact checking project (again, after you click start there might be a delay before the video starts):

The Colbert ReportMon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Sunday Morning Fact-Checking – Jake Tapper & Bill Adair
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorFox News

 

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