Anything & Everything

April 30, 2013

On Telling Opinion From Fact

Filed under: Blogging,Daily Life,Writing — Susan Morgan @ 10:25 am

Sometimes it’s tough to tell the two apart… especially if strong beliefs or emotions are involved. Passionate feelings and childhood teachings aren’t  easily put aside.

Depending on who you are and how you were raised, there could be many opinions that you accept as facts. Of course the reverse, where as Sheldon’s Mamma from The Big Bang Theory points out, facts (evolution in this case) can be considered “opinion” as well. So it’s hard, I get that.

So here are some clues that might be helpful. Facts are cold, logical and not always what we want to hear. Think Arctic Ice shrinkage. Or the truth of how early European settlers treated the natives.

Opinions have more feeling behind them and seem to mold themselves to our way of thinking. Gun control comes to mind. Sometimes opinions can use some of the most basic facts while (intentionally or not) missing the big picture. Hollywood brings us many examples — movies like Braveheart accept the basics and play fast and loose with the rest.

There’s no denying an ultra confident tone and certain swagger are enough to be convincing — giving opinion the gloss of fact. If someone sounds authoritative in their communications you’re more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt. They must know what they’re talking about, or they wouldn’t be so invested in the topic, right?

Unfortunately, conviction isn’t always bothered about getting facts straight, confirming things. It doesn’t always speak from experience.

Believing what is fed to you as fact, without checking for yourself is madness — the path to enslavement and ruin. Not only are you giving authority to those who don’t deserve it, you end up misinformed on an issue. When you spread your misinformation, as you surely will be compelled to do, you end up looking foolish, inept, out of touch.

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to take a hard look at where your information is coming from — impartial or vested interest.

Impartial sources come to no conclusion — they put the facts out there and let you decide. Online these are often the ones with .net, .edu, .gov extensions on the name. Facts are facts — proven and tested and there for all to see.

Vested interest cares what you decide and will use subtle techniques to get you there — preying on the worst urges, the baser instincts in human nature to win. Facts are twisted to suit, chosen to fit but never given clearly enough for everyone to understand.

There are four (probably more) basic questions that can help you assess a vested interest…

  1. Who’s funding/behind the effort?
  2. What do they stand to gain by convincing you?
  3. Are there dissenters? What do they say?
  4. Which side has the most objective evidence?

It’s not that you shouldn’t listen to what a vested interest source is telling you, you should. Just do so with a knowing ear and a “trust but verify” mindset.

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