10 Tips on How to Discern Fact From Fiction

When presented with information, how do you assess its validity or reliability? Can you distinguish fact from fiction? Here are 10 tips to ponder.

I saw a film titled Primeval last week and I can’t help but get amused of the way the behavior of the large crocodile named Gustave is being portrayed. During the climax, Steven (played by Orlando Jones), cameraman of the news team that tried to capture Gustave, runs with all his might in his bid to outrun the literally galloping crocodile. Gustave, at the end of the film, was also trying to get inside the vehicle, ferociously snapping away at the passengers. So dramatic.

I had such a good laugh because I know crocodiles cannot sustain long runs on land. They are not designed to do so. Crocodiles suddenly lunge when opportunity comes to catch their prey. Thus, they are called opportunistic predators. The attack usually happens at the edge of the water.

Crocodiles cannot sustain long runs because lactic acid builds up easily in its muscles. I had readings and personal encounters on this fact as I once worked in a crocodile conservation facility as an ecologist. If the crocodile does not rest (just like the way you see lizards do it), it will most probably die due to too much strenuous activity[1]. This is characteristic of cold-blooded animals. According to a recent study from the University of Adelaide, if dinosaurs were cold-blooded, they would not have dominated the world for millions of years [2].

For this reason, I thought of writing up the following tips, to help discern fact from fiction, although I would say this is a tall order. In reality, it is difficult to see the truth when bombarded with a lot of conflicting information. These tips, however, can prove handy when reading material from the web and sort out reliable information from trash in view of enhancing your literature review.

10 Tips to Discern Fact from Fiction

1. Educate yourself.

If you have a good background of the subject, nobody can fool you into believing something that is grossly absurd. Imagine the amount of time you spend to educate yourself in schools. It is a long process, but it will help relieve your ignorance about many things.

2.  If things are too exaggerated or too good to be true, dismiss it.

Have you ever seen a film where the human characters fly and jump high places whenever they fight ? If these people exist, then this world will be different. With training, some people will no longer need a ladder or a car for that matter. With just a few hops, they will be able to reach their destinations.

3. Always question what is being presented to you.

discernfactfromfiction

Don’t take things as they are. If there is doubt in your mind regarding things, ask. Through asking, you will verify the existence of an object, fact, or event.

Can you distinguish dreams from reality? Ask yourself while dreaming. Chances are, you will not be able to do so.

4. Verify the sources of information.

Find out where your information comes from. Is it coming from a verified source or is it just someone’s opinion? This is the very reason researchers have always to write their sources or references to enable the reader or critic of his paper to verify sources for reliability.

Science builds up its foundation on facts. If the foundation is weak, everything built upon it collapses once it gives way. A theory is built out of many tests of hypotheses.

Verifying sources of information becomes very important especially on those occasions where something really important crops up. Say, a total cure for cancer has been developed or discovered.

Nobody in his right mind will believe a tricky quack doctor’s recipe who has had a track record of 49/50 (49 died out of 50). Also, a scientist’s word is more believable than a politician’s when it comes to new discoveries.

5. Get rid of your biases.

If you have your prejudices, then your objective judgement is clouded. Take things with a grain of salt. Don’t incorporate your emotions and your personal biases. You can avoid this by applying the principle of triangulation.

6. Assess how well information is presented.

When reading information online, which one would you believe – one that is poorly written full of grammatical errors or one that is professionally written? Of course, you will go for the latter.

Presentation matters. If something is carefully done, chances are, there is more truth to it.

7. Vary your perspective.

Observe things using different perspectives. Delay your judgment when the facts are not adequate.

Remember the story of the six blind men and the elephant (see the video below if you are not familiar with this story)? Each one of them has a different view of what an elephant is because they relied on only one observation. The point is: don’t confine yourself to just one observation.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBqgr5xZLz0&rel=0]

8. Think beyond the box.

Explore what other information you can find about things around you. Thinking beyond the box means that you are unconventional. Don’t take things as they are. Ponder them and take action to verify the truth based on your observation.

The newly discovered mammal named olinguito would have been overlooked had one scientist dismissed his observation. Read about this discovery here.

9. Don’t make decisions right away.

Many commit blunders as a result of wrong decisions. Blunder is a common term used in playing chess. Once you make the decision, you cannot retract it. The die is cast.

While too much procrastination may be bad for you, being impulsive is also destructive. University of San Diego professor Frank Partnoy says the key to success is waiting for the last possible moment to make a decision[3].

10. Watch out for opinionated statements. 

Don’t believe something without a basis. If you have 100 people, you are bound to have 100 opinions. Arguments should be substantiated by facts or evidences.

The whole point of the matter discussed here is that it pays if you follow certain guidelines in evaluating information presented to you. Remember Alexander Pope’s famous quotation “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

References

1. Queensland Government. (2013, April 24). Crocodiles. Retrieved from August 17, 2013, from http://www.qld.gov.au/environment/plants-animals/animals/crocodiles/

2. Outred, J. (2013, July 24). Cold-blooded dinos would have been ‘too weak’. Retrieved from August 17, 2013, from http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/journal/cold-blooded-dinosaurs-would-have-been-too-weak.htm

3. Gambino, M. (2012, July 13).  Why Procrastination is good for you. Retrieved August 17, 2013, from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Why-Procrastination-is-Good-for-You-162358476.html

© 2013 August 18 P. A. Regoniel

One thought on “10 Tips on How to Discern Fact From Fiction”

  1. This need of discernment has never been greater; the Trump/Clinton dilemma is our greatest example of that need. Fake news is everywhere.
    At least it is somewhat better than in the context of the propaganda of Nazi Germany; we do hear two sides of the story now; but the important decisions must still be made by the individual.
    As was the case in the Nazi propaganda era, we, the baby boomers, were raised in a society in which school teachers, the national media, our reigning political chiefs and their underling university professors were not to be questioned.
    For many of us, that era is now finished. “Published facts” are subject to the publisher. A new era has arrived.
    Universities are disturbed by teachings of “creation science.” We are no longer impressed by CBC’s choice of “scientists… ” or the obvious ignorance of Phd’s (pig-headed dummies.) No they are not always in that category, but neither do they always impress us as being quite sound.
    Enough said!

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