Bull Spotting: Finding Facts in the Age of Misinformation by Loren Collins will help you spot and avoid lies in a world with more accessible truth and lies than ever. In the age of fake news you can learn how to use the tools of critical thinking to identify the common features and trends of misinformation campaigns. Loren will help you tell the difference between real conspiracies and conspiracy theories, real science from pseudoscience, and history from fantasy.
- Loren is and attorney and firm associate with the Law Office of W. Bryant Greene, III, P. C. He is the creator of Barackryphal, a website that debunks the fallacies propounded by birthers regarding the birth and citizenship of President Obama. He has written for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the topics of misinformation and critical thinking.
1. Baloney Detection
- Operating in the world efficiently depends on one’s ability to identify crap, also known as misinformation. Today we are constantly bombarded with information, which makes crap detection more import than ever. We tend to rely on common sense, but recall that there was a time when common sense told our ancestors that the world was flat. It can be helpful, but we need to look to science to uncover the truth.
- Most of us are not conditioned to distinguish between good and bad sources. We favor information from sources we like and visa versa. We accept information that supports our beliefs, and doubt information that doesn’t. This is know as confirmation bias. Other biases include having our thinking impacted by how something is framed, and putting more weight on recent information.
- People evolved to spot patterns even when they don’t exist and to create stories, myths, to explain the patterns. The ancient Greeks, for example, created different Gods to explain how the world worked.
- A common feature of creative misinformation is the reliance of anomalies. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t produce a cohesive alternative theory. The idea is that if you can undermine one detail of the consensus view you have disproved it. If you see this in action, it tends to be a good means of spotting misinformation. Occam’s razor tells us that the explanation that makes the fewest assumptions is most likely to be the correct one.
- Denialism concerns the rejection of truth accepted by experts. In some cases popular opinion denies scientific facts. For example, a 2010 poll showed that 40% of Americans believe humankind was created in our present form less than ten thousand years ago. The primary tactic is to look for anomalies that can poke holes in established theories. Deniers do not advance a cohesive alternative theory that can be tested.
- When confronted with evidence, deniers will often say it is forged or fake. When evidence can’t be denied they may say that it means something else like the Nazi gas chambers were not used for mass killings. Fake experts are also associated with deniers. While they may have college degrees, the degrees are usually in unrelated fields. Subjective experiences and anecdotes are often treated as solid evidence.