Of facts and opinions, lies and truth.
The other day I “engaged” in a social media “conversation” because apparently I still think that I can save the world from a global pandemic….and maybe more importantly, ignorance.
I stumbled upon a post about how Covid isn’t really all that bad, blah blah blah. And then I did what a woman, suffering from chronic rage, with a well stocked whiskey cabinet, should NEVER DO…read the comments.
First comment: “Last I heard the CDC also said there is no scientific evidence that the mask even help one way or another.”
Followed by: “compared to the flu, I think the death rates are comparable.”
Then I chimed in: “So, from 2018-2019 influenza killed just over 34,000 people. Covid has killed 180,000 since March, so numbers aren’t comparable. Also, there has been a ton of evidence that masks are helpful in reducing the spread. When the mask mandate took effect in JoCo, numbers dropped dramatically compared to other counties in KS where the mandate wasn’t upheld. “
(Note my little smiley emoji…for good measure)
Then she said: “You’re entitled to your own opinion…”
So this got me thinking…have we forgotten the difference between facts and opinions? Because if we have then I have absolutely no hope that we, as a society, will ever be more than ranting and raving lunatics who will devolve into some sort of unrecognizable species over the next several generations. Has anyone seen Wayward Pines? What once seemed a far fetched (yet entertaining) plot now seems frighteningly possible.
To avoid plummeting into a world of chaos, driven by misinformation and untruths (or I guess….falling further into it?), let’s go back and revisit what we should have learned in elementary school. We’ll start with some definitions.
Fact: A thing that is known or proven to be true.
2+2 = 4 is an example of a fact. As many times as I attempt to disprove this, I cannot. 2+2 will always equal 4.
Truth: In accordance with fact or reality.
I am currently watching reruns of The Office is an example of a true statement.
Opinion: A view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.
Coffee should always be served hot is an example of an opinion. I get all sorts of irritated when I go through the Starbucks drive thru and they ask if I want my latte hot or cold. THERE IS ONLY ONE WAY TO SERVE COFFEE!!! But alas, this is my opinion. Not based on any facts, simply my own preferences.
Lie: An intentionally false statement
I love iced coffee is a bold faced, dirty lie.
I shouldn’t need to tell anyone that social media, and often times the actual media, has a propensity for untruths, opinions disguised as facts, flat out lies and other misleading information. And now it is more important than ever to put on our collective thinking caps, sort through the crap, discern fact from fiction and enable ourselves to make wise, informed decisions.
Cool…so how do I do that?
Here are some questions that I ask myself when I’m evaluating a piece of information:
- Is this source reliable? Sources like the Associated Press and Reuters are generally accepted as more reliable because of their objectivity and higher standard of information gathering. Sources like Breitbart and Occupy Democrats are poor sources of objective information as they have a tendency to be quite sensational and largely composed of opinions and partial truths spun by very extreme thinkers to support particular causes. I’m not going to judge you for reading them, but you really need to have your spidey senses turned way up and question/research (using unbiased sources) pretty much everything before you accept it as fact. This might be a helpful graphic. The same can be said for medical journals. Some are renowned for their quality (JAMA, NEJM, CHEST, etc.), while others…well…aren’t actual medical journals. The Bestest Journal from the Doctors of Alternative Aromatherapy is probably not my first choice for high quality studies and up to date recommendations.
- Is this an opinion piece or an actual news article? If something you are reading says “Editorial” or “Op-Ed” this is an opinion piece. In a perfect world an editorial or an op-ed should incorporate facts to support the opinions stated, but the piece as a whole, should not be taken for fact.
- Is this a meme? If you are getting your information from memes, please stop. Anyone can put together a legit looking meme that is composed of blatant lies.
4. Is this hearsay? If someone starts a sentence with “Well, I heard…” Stop them right there and ask, “Where did you hear that? Who said it? What is the source?” If there is no reliable source, or if it was found “on the internet” this information is likely not reliable…it is either an opinion or a lie…or maybe a partial truth. Regardless, it is important that you identify it for what it is before you consider believing it. Take for example my interaction described above. If I didn’t question that this person, we’ll call her Donna (you’re welcome, Karens of the world), knew what she was talking about, I might believe that the CDC actually said that masks aren’t helpful in slowing the spread of Covid. And then I would lament buying those cute masks on Etsy. But I fancy myself a critical thinker, so that’s not what happened. I generally feel like I’m up to date on most Covid information, but I went ahead and did my own research to investigate Donna’s statement. This little gem was posted two days ago verifying that the CDC recommends wearing masks because they do help stop the spread of Covid-19. Boom….TRUTH BOMB!
5. Is this founded in any sort of reality? If someone starts a statement with “I think….” well fabulous….good to know that you are thinking! But just because someone is “thinking” something, does not validate it as truthful or reliable information, or something you should use to support your decision to not wear a mask or take something seriously. Again, to reference my conversation with Donna, it would be amazing if Covid were similar to influenza in its morbidity and mortality. I can see how this line of thinking is very attractive to everyone who is tired of this pandemic…which is literally everyone in the world. But because we want it to be true, or because Donna on Facebook said she thinks it’s true does not mean that it is true. So let’s go back to some independent research. If you do a quick Google search for “CDC influenza mortality” it will lead you here. Scroll down and you can see mortality data from influenza for the past several years. Then you can go here and find the current mortality data from Covid-19. Then you can draw your own opinion about the death rates of influenza and Covid-19 and if they are…comparable. And if after looking at this data, you still think that they are comparable…then our next lesson will clearly need to be on elementary math…
6. Does it sound too terrifying to be true?
Nevermind….odds are good that it’s true. #2020
I hope this little exercise gave us all some tools for interpreting information and empowered us to use a higher standard when disseminating information.
Keep wearing your masks, keep your distance from others and be nice to people actually named Karen.