un Spun: finding facts in a world of disinformation
acronym for "fear, uncertainty, and doubt", used to cloud judgment and/or disparage competitor brands or candidates
when a comparative term such as 'larger,' 'faster,' or 'better' is used but the comparison group is left unspecified
technique of trickery that employs terms such as "most," "highest," and "biggest in history" to make the product or candidate seem the best or worst available. This often results in buyers choosing needlessly expensive products and/or making shallow political decisions
"Pay You Tuesday" Con
technique of trickery that employs a promised payback in the future in exchange for the public's money or vote up front
technique of trickery that employs pointing a finger at an unpopular group and hoping to divert attention from a product's or candidate's own flaw or weakness
technique of trickery that employs attractive-sounding, but vague terms to make a product seem better or unique among competitors
an unsuitable or misleading name intended to purposely fool the public into supporting or boycotting a specific product or candidate
Frame It and Claim It
technique of trickery that employs words that the public will automatically accept or reject without thinking too much. Example: "Estate Tax" vs. "Death Tax" or "fetus" vs. "baby"
words that suck the meaning out of a phrase or sentence, the way that weasels supposedly suck the contents out of an egg, leaving only a hollow shell. Ex. In "Up to 50% off," the empty shell of a phrase is "50% off," the weasel words are "up to."
technique of trickery that employs words to say one thing and pictures to say another, intending for the pictures to override spoken words
The "Average" Bear
intentional use of the term "average" when presenting figures, hoping the public will understand the meaning to be "typical" rather than the real meanng of "mathematical," which allows the figures to be slanted towards the user's purpose. A better measure from the public's perspective would be the median, which is the midpoint.
purposely misleading the public to believe opponents are trying to "cut" funding or programs, while understanding their plan can only be called a "cut" in relation to projected future spending, or the baseline.
Literally True Falsehood
purposeful use of deceptive words to make a statement that is literally true, but technically false. Ex. "Reduced fat" just means the product has less fat than it used to have, but it doesn't mean "low fat."
technique of trickery that tries to imply what advertisers can't legally say
the common attitude that others are influenced by media messages, but we are not
Pictures in Our Heads Trap
psychological trap that relies on the human tendency to think in terms of stereotype, which deceivers exploit for their own gain
Root for My Side Trap
psychological trap that targets our commitment to causes, hoping our commitment will not only color our thinking, but also affect what we see and don't see as we observe the world around us
"I Know I'm Right" Trap
psychological trap that suggests the more misinformed we are, the more strongly we insist that we're correct. Those who most need to revise the "pictures in their heads" are the very ones least likely to change their thinking
Close Call Trap
psychological trap that is a natural human tendency to make ourselves feel better about choices we've made, even at the expense of accuracy or consistency. When confronted with tough decisions, we tend to exaggerate the differences.
Don't Confuse Anecdotes with Data Lesson
data is gathered from a credible study, and therefore much more trustworthy than random observation, or anecdote. One or two interesting stories don't prove anything. They could be far fron typical.
Remember the Blind Men and the Elephant Lesson
the natural human tendency to give great weight to our immediate experience, despite its unreliability. Our personal experience seldom gives us a full picture. This is especially true when our experience is indirect, filtered by others.
Not All "Studies" Are Equal Lesson
as a general rule, the source of evidence matters. As a practical matter we find we're more likely to get trustsworthy information from disinterested sources than from advocates. In addition, when different methods arrive at similar estimates, those estimates are more credible.
Saying It Doesn't Make It So Lesson
Constant repetition of a claim may cause people to believe it, but repetition doesn't make it true.
Extraordinary Claims Need Extraordinary Evidence Lesson
Before accepting any shocking claims as fact, it is wise to first look carefully at the source, the sample surveyed, and the reporting procedure.
Appeals to Authority
someone who is an authority in one field isn't necessarily qualified in another. Before relying on authority, ask yourself, "Is this source competent? Does he know what he's talking about? Does she have any real evidence? Do other authorities in the same field agree?"
Appeals to Popularity
Popularity may settle elections, but is doesn't settle questions of fact. Ask yourself, "Is this thing popular because it's good, or for some other reason, such as a big advertising budget?"
Argument based on what appears to be valid, logical, or reasonable, but is not necessarily so. For example, the false assumption that when two events happen, the first one has caused the second.
Rule #1: You Can't Be Completely Certain
absolute certainty is elusive. Perfect knowledge is seldom if ever available to humans.
Rule #2: You Can Be Certain Enough
We can't be absolutely certain, but we can be certain enough to make a reasonable decision by choosing the right standard of proof to give us the degree of certainty we need under specific circumstances. The more important the decision, and the more difficult it is to reverse the consequences of that decision, the more careful we have to be.
Rule #3: Look for General Agreement Among Experts
We can be much more confident that we are getting the facts right when we start with what's widely accepted by authorities on all sides. Keep in mind, however, that consensus isn't proof. Sometimes the lone dissenter can be correct.
Rule #4: Check Primary Sources
Primary sources are more reliable than secondary sources. And when the inferences you will draw from the information are very important to you, it is best to check the primary source. Track your information upstream. Be wary of secondhand accounts, and even more wary of thirdhand stories.
Rule #5: Know What Counts
when you see numbers used, be sure you know what's being counted, and what's not. Definitions matter. Even the simple act of counting becomes complicated in real life, because we have to make choices about what to count.
Rule #6: Know Who's Talking
While self-interest doesn't make a statement false, knowing who's behind a statement is important in considering how much weight to give it. Private interests can conflict with their responsibility to provide unbiased, trustworthy research - the public interest.
Rule #7: Seeing Shouldn't Necessarily Be Believing
Researchers have found that people can rather easily be talked into seeing things that aren't there (or saying they do). Personal experience can mislead us; people tend to overestimate how well they remember their own experiences.
Rule #8: Cross-check Everything That Matters
We can be more confident about a conclusion when different sources using different methods end up agreeing on results.
Rule #9: Be Skeptical, but Not Cynical
The skeptic demands evidence, and rightly so. The cynic rejects facts without evidence