Never Ask A Barber If You Need A Haircut
That’s ancient advice.
In modern times, it is harder. Lots of people want you to do things that benefit them and might even benefit you.
The key is to understand the motivation of the person giving you advice. Barbers don’t cost much, but should you believe politicians, media anchors, spokespeople for government agencies, or even spokespeople for any entity? The potential benefit to you is not clear and the cost could be very high.
What is truth about?
Truth is not so easy as you think. Truth is a very nuanced thing. How we think affects what we believe to be true. Edward De Bono has postulated that what we decide is more conditioned by how we think than it is by what we think about. Since no two of us have exactly the same set of thinking conditions, we must each have our own truth.
I think we could agree that things that are objectively true have a high degree of common factors with other people interested in the same thing. Small details on the periphery might not matter in the broad scheme of things. Those are what people argue about and mis the hge area of commonality.
How can you decide if something is true?
Deciding about truth.
- Assess the credibility of the one telling you this particular truth. Do they have the skills, judgement, and experience to have examined the evidence and reach a cogent solution. As Richard Feynman has said, “A scientist talking about non-science things is just as dumb as the rest of us.” If the speaker has no deep credentialization or experience, treat their expression as opinion rather than fact.
- Is it about details or interpretation? Look for the commonality part.
- If the subject is complex, decide if you could understand the truth. Oftentimes you will be unable. For example, it would take a remarkable presenter to have me understand quantum physics. Can you tell when truth appears when it involves complicated subjects.
- Don’t rely on your experience. At one time you could tinker with your car’s engine in your driveway. The parts were easy to get to and it was not harmful to do things like adjust the sparkplug gap or clean a carburetor. On my car today, I have been told if it isn’t liquid, don’t touch it. Probably good advice.
- Is there evidence you can verify? If not why not? If there is no evidence there can be little credibility. Your assumption should be they are not providing it because there is none or because it contradicts what they are telling you.
- Check the motivation of the presenter. People with a clear win if you agree with them require more evidence than someone who does not.
- Unnamed expert opinion is valueless. It is hearsay and inadmissible. Most of what you hear from politicians is material their staff collected from what they could find in journals, magazines or by talking to others. Sometimes a scientist but not always. Keep in mind even the scientist will present their opinion of the science, not the exact science. Usually it is presented to fit the listener’s ability to understand it. When a politician talks about experts, they are talking about third hand interpreted hearsay.
- Is the presenter too sure, given the situation. Too sure is intended to inspire confidence but a careful listener notices that most of the time when they hear that certainty, the key information is not available at all. Not to anybody, even experienced experts. Fog of war. It doesn’t keep people from acting though. Certainty sells better. No one would mind if they made better decisions as they learned more.
- Is there a preferred story? If there is, is what you are hearing just embellishment of that.
- Are some things denied without evidence that matters. That something is not proven in a particular circumstance means little. the circumstances of the test may have been more important than the product. If it is safe, why not use it in other circumstances. Nothing to lose.
- Is there compelling evidence that contradicts the story? Ask yourself if there should be.
- As always, to whom the good. Follow the money.
- The covid pandemic has excellent material to help you learn to be a skeptical thinker.
At one time it was said you should believe half of what you see and none of what you hear. Given photoshop and similar technology the new rule is believe nothing until you see evidence and reasoning.
It is like high school. Demand that the presenters show their work..
Look for people who contradict. Even if you are on their side, hold them to the same standards.
Look for other news sources that have no reason to support the people who you can see easily. Some European. Sky News Australia doesn’t report much on the Australian madness, but has a different viewpoint on the US. No one reports on Canada.
Look for meaning.
Learning to be a skeptic is good fun. Try it.
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