How to identify fake news

“Truth is the cry of all, but the game of a few.”

George Berkeley (1685-1753), Irish Philosopher

An endless number of individuals and organizations attempt to influence your viewpoints: religious leaders, politicians, civil servants, scientists, educators, economists, advertisers, marketers, activists, physicians, musicians, filmmakers, public relations spokespersons, legitimate news organizations, fake news organizations, law enforcement officials, businesses, bloggers, Wikipedia contributors and social media devotees, among still more. Many offer competing and incompatible perspectives.

How can one navigate an environment of conflicting information to ascertain the soundness of a claim, assess the validity of an argument or evaluate a proposed course of action? First, be a skeptic, await reasonable evidence before forming an opinion. Second, proceed via inquiry, ranking observational evidence above abstract logic, ingrained beliefs and opinions. Rely on expert commentary from reputable sources. And third, reach an objective conclusion based on a preponderance of evidence and act accordingly, always respecting your fellow citizens.

To assist, employ questions from TRUTH for evaluating a claim.

Test The Claim

  • Is the claim clearly articulated?
  • Is the claim expressed in language free from emotion and bias?
  • Is the claim supported by reasonable evidence?
  • What methods were used to generate the evidence? Are the methods repeatable?
  • Does the evidence include sufficient detail or omit pertinent detail?
  • Does the evidence appear to be supported by sound science?
  • Does the evidence assert a direct cause-and-effect relationship, a statistical likelihood or merely a correlation?
  • Does the claim offer testable and falsifiable predictions?
  • What evidence would be required to refute the claim?
  • Is the evidence available for examination by 3rd parties?
  • Was the claim subject to peer review?
  • Does the claim cite trustworthy sources?
  • Does the claim seem reasonable based on the evidence?
  • Is the claim consistent with other studies? Novel findings are not necessarily incorrect, but require a higher degree of confirming evidence.
  • Who benefits from the claim? Who is harmed?
  • Is the claim articulated to provoke happiness or anger, to play on emotions and belief rather than convey objective information?

Reveal The Claimant

  • Does the claimant possess credentials denoting expertise in the field?
  • Does the claimant possess a record of providing verified claims?
  • Does the claimant cite their organizational affiliations?
  • Does the claimant remain focused on the issue, articulating its merits and acknowledging its shortcomings?
  • Does the claimant differentiate between evidence-based conclusions and personal opinions?
  • Does the claimant appear to advocate a particular outcome, rather than following wherever the evidence might lead?
  • Does the claimant dismiss contradictory evidence?
  • Does the claimant appeal to authority to substantiate the claim?
  • Does the claimant rely on hyperbole, false analogy, misinformation or disinformation to advance a claim?
  • Does the claimant respond calmly and rationally to challenges, or become irate and feign indignation?
  • Does the claimant attempt to advance a claim based on their reputation, prestige, position or vanity?
  • Does the claimant attempt to discredit, humiliate or shout down opponents?
  • Does the claimant resort to personal attacks and calumnies to advance a claim?
  • Does the claimant profess to be the only one who can discern the truth?
  • Does the claimant appear likely to accept evidence that contradicts his or her existing beliefs?
  • Is it possible to contact the claimant?

Understand The Organization

  • Who funded the research?
  • Who published the claim?
  • How old is the publishing organization? Is the organization reputable, with a long history of responsible journalism?
  • Do organizations that comment on the claim offer balanced perspectives on a variety of topics?
  • Do organizations that comment on the claim operate an internal process to vet the reasonableness of claims, or do they merely parrot commentary from other organizations?
  • Do organizations that comment on the claim appear to have been established explicitly to champion a specific worldview?
  • Do organizations that comment on the claim appear to ridicule opponents of their worldview?

Typify The Society

  • Does the society tolerate open inquiry?
  • Does the society legislate against undesirable opinions on circumscribed topics?
  • Does the society empower official groups to police adherence to a prescribed set of viewpoints?
  • Does the society tolerate non-official groups who censor objectionable viewpoints and maltreat their proponents?
  • Does the society punish proponents of opposing viewpoints, thereby creating a culture of self-censorship?

Heighten Your Self-Awareness

  • Do you understand your biases?
  • Do you seek diverse viewpoints from a variety of sources?
  • Do you live in an information bubble, educating yourself from a small number of sources that reinforce previously-held convictions?
  • Do you attempt to dismiss uncomfortable evidence?
  • Do you prefer to base decisions heavily on emotion and gut instincts?
  • Are you open to revising your opinions in light of compelling new evidence?
  • Are you willing, on topics of significance to you, to undertake further study to understand the methods and reliability of research? (on climate change, for example, by learning how the analysis of ice cores reveals past levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, or how calcite shells of microorganisms indicate the temperature of ancient oceans and the level of glaciation)?