The value of skepticism

By Navid Amarlou
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In a world that is increasingly digital we come across a great deal of information within a short span of time. It is important to question the validity of the information we come across so that we are not fed false Information that we then interpret as fact. In recent years this issue has become more prominent as we have seen within the recent election and in subsequent events such as the parkland shooting where false information had been disseminated into the public eye. The spreading of such information has a harmful effect on our society, given that such misinformation has also shaped public opinion at times. This is where the value of skepticism is vital, that if you are able to distinguish “fake news” from valid and factual news, then you will be able to stop the cycle of misinformation quite early. Which is why the primary focus is how to critically analyze the validity of any given article.

A thing to take into account when reading any article is that the source, or the publisher of the article may present some form of bias. In this case it is important to do research on the author or publisher of the article, as to see if there is a bias present, and whether the author or publisher has a reputation for spreading false information. Should the author have no background information when looking them up, the source should be reviewed with a great deal of skepticism. As there is a chance that the information presented is not valid.

Though this seems incredibly obvious, it is important to note that you should read beyond the headlines. Often the headline of an article is meant to exaggerate the contents of the article itself. Although the title may say one thing, the actual content could be saying something entirely different. An example of this could be an article written about murder. The title read somewhat along the lines of  “Man murders his wife in cold blood”. From the title alone you can imagine that a simple conclusion would be that the man did in fact kill his wife, though the actual content of the article says that he was accused of the murder but was found not guilty in a court of law, it was rather a family friend who was convicted of the murder. It is incredibly important to note the sheer absurdity in this all, a form of slander was put against this man. He was innocent by law but was portrayed guilty by a writer who decided that the article would sound better with a title like this. In order to determine the validity of any article, it is important that we do not promote a culture of headline only news, but rather seek depth and information in its content.

It seems like a fairly obvious form of misinformation, a common misrepresentation of information is in statistics. Often to boost the validity of a claim or to support an argument writers frequently use statistics to back their claims. And this is where the act of misinformation becomes much more complicated, given that a writer may have credibility, a proper title, and an articulately written article but the statistics that they provide would be false. A reason why this is often done is to back a claim with a greater quantity of evidence. The way to properly counter such false statements is to simply look up the subject that the statistics are being presented for. An example of this would be if you told by an article that there is a correlation between violent movies and violent behavior within adolescence. You can look up effects of violent movies, causes of violent behavior, or in this case a scientific source would be preferable so that you can see if there is some psychological tie between the two. In looking at these other articles to fact check the statistic present it is important to check the credibility of the sources you are fact checking with as well.

What is the purpose of the article written? Some websites present joke news, this is news that is not meant to be real, it is so absurd that it could not possibly be true. A wonderful example of this type of news site is The Onion which has a history of posting articles that are completely false. Though this does not mean that they are hoping to deceive their readers. The Onion is meant to be a satire news site, an example of this is their recent article which discusses a doctor asking a mother if she would like to keep the exoskeleton of her newborn baby. This is clearly a joke, though there are articles on the internet which present themselves as jokes but are interpreted as true.

Finally, another great way to check an articles validity is to check its date. This is for a multitude of reasons but the primary is to make sure that the information is up to date or if it’s an event, whether or not it was recent. This is especially important in reading articles where data of facts are being presented especially in a constantly changing field such as science or research where an article from 2013 may lack the new information or the detail and understanding an article from 2017-2018 may have.

In keeping these tips in mind, you can ensure that you are well informed and that the information you are being presented with is in fact valid. The value of skepticism in being presented with information is vital, as there will always be some fault with a source. In making sure that you do not take information at face value, you can work towards stopping this cycle of misinformation where falsehoods spread like wildfire.

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