Ascertaining Truth in an Age of Disinformation

Revision 5
© 2018-2019 by Zack Smith. All rights reserved.

10 Steps

1. Judge the argument and its evidence, not whoever speaks it. If an unreliable source claims 1+1=2, it is still true. If an expert says 2+2=5, it is still false.

Example: Government experts claimed a building collapsed at free-fall speed because of a fire, which is physically impossible, and even its owner admits on video it was pulled i.e. demolished with explosives. Skeptics point this out and are lambasted.

2. Don't be hypnotized by a simplistic emotive narrative. Complex situations have many narratives and require that you consider multiple perspectives. Liars want you to believe just one: theirs.

Example: A caravan funded and operated by People Without Borders claims to be sending asylum seekers who are families, but on the ground multiple investigative journalists find few families and 95% are young men who say they're seeking work. People Without Borders's funding is traced back to shell companies one of which is funded by George Soros. But the simple heartstring-pulling narrative of families escaping violence is repeated over and over.

3. Don't neglect the context of every statement and event. Reject quotes taken out of context, or events presented as unique and new.

Example: Trump used tear gas on asylum seekers, oh horror! Facts checked: They rushed the border crossing, Obama used tear gas too in the past, and they aren't asylum seekers.

4. Fake news purveyors are first to claim others are fake. Mainstream media see blogs and other websites as competition and accuse them of being fake.

Example: A Washington Post video about how to spot fake news specifically claimed a website ActivistPost is fake news; so I went to that site and it featured an article that clearly and cogently pointed out using mature language that the Southern Poverty Law Center was successfully sued by Quilliam Foundation for slander and misinformation and had to pay $3.375 million. The Post ran an opinion piece entitled The Southern Poverty Law Center has lost all credibility.

5. Beware mind-readers.

People who claim to know someone's secret thoughts, motivation, biases, and wants are typically either

  1. slandering and scapegoating
  2. projecting their own faults onto others out of feelings of guilt.

For instance, a politician may claim to know the corrupt, racist, sexist thoughts of another politician because talking about these will slander his victim and poison the well i.e. gullible people will view everything the victim says with suspicion, whereas the accusing politician can claim the moral high ground.

For instance, a shameful latent homosexual might claim to know the secret desires of a straight man whom he desires in order to scapegoat him and direct others' homophobic suspicions away from himself.

6. Resist the entertaining because entertaining doesn't imply right.

Many people try to make dark and evil motivations fun and be entertaining. The classic example is the person who makes racist, sexist, classist and homophobic jokes.

7. Recognize that no one is an all-around expert.

Identify areas where an expert has weak knowledge and understanding, or even holds implausible views.

Laypeople as well may have very poor understanding of basic topics, due to their having done badly in basic courses in school, or their lack of interest.

8. Learn your expert's background and connections.

These can strongly impact whether a person is telling the truth because it can suggest where their biases are and what the purpose of their talking publicly is.

Knowing that your favorite TV pundit's father has a connection to powerful people who have done bad quite things...

Knowing that your favorite intellectual denies obvious evidence and logic about a major event, like insisting that the official story about the JFK assassination is true and plausible...

Knowing that a widely lauded personality was a known spy while she was married to certain famous dictator, who helped her compatriots...

These kinds of details provide context to their words and action, and news stories about them.

9. Spot illogical rhetoric.

Familiarize yourself with logical fallacies and other rhetorical manipulations and learn to spot them. This is admittedly a tall order because there are many of them but it is important. Here is my list of fallacies:

A Priori Begging the Question
Ad Hoc Circular Argument
Ad Hominem Attack Cum Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc
Affirming a Disjunct Division
Affirming the consequent Fallacy of Composition
Appeal to Authority False Dilemma
Appeal to Consequences First Claim
Appeal to Emotion Genetic Fallacy
Appeal to Fear of Force Guilt by Association
Appeal to Hypocrisy Hasty Generalization to an Inverse
Appeal to Ignorance Hasty Generalization
Appeal to Novelty Irrelevant conclusion
Appeal to Tradition Legitimacy from Effort
Appeal to the Majority Modo Hoc
Argument from Beauty No True Scotsman
Argument from Fallacy Non-Sequitur
Argument from High Standards Poisoning the Well
Argument from Lack of Imagination Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc
Argument from Money Proof by assertion
Argument from Natural Source Red Herring
Argument from Payment Slippery Slope
Argumentum ad Lapidem Straw Man
Argumentum ad Lazarum Sweeping Generalization
Argumentum ad Nauseum Syllogistic fallacy: Undistributed middle

Many people who think themselves clever deploy logical fallacies and other manipulations because they think their audience is stupid. For instance, a conservative talk show host or an establishment liberal TV pundit.

Others use illogic out of desperation because if anyone learns the truth, they will lose their influence.

For instance, a fundamentalist. That there is no evidence for the gods whatsoever, so there is no need for fundamentalists.

Fallacies knowingly deployed for strategic manipulation are what you might call weaponized fallacies.

An example of a manipulation is the assertion of Occam's Razor, which holds that the simplest explanation is usually true and leaves it at that. Occam's Razor, therefore I'm right. But one person's simplest explanation is often at odds with another person's simplest explanation. One person says Occam's Razor must be used and that therefore mankind was created by a god, another says no, it is actually far simpler to say evolution created life.

10. Recognize systems of thought

It's only by learning about systems of thought that some events can be understood. Taken as isolated events they make no sense at all, or little sense.

When you learn of a genuine, confirmed understanding that some group G has a plan P, and that it has certain steps and requires certain tactics X, Y and Z to be used, a better understanding of other events that otherwise make no sense can be formed.

Whether such a group and a plan exist is a matter of debate and evidence-checking, so clear-headed people will go back to original texts and thinkers, current texts and thinkers, and evidence that the plan was being implemented.

For instance, it is alleged that one system of thought from the Trotskyites involved a plan for world domination and that Trotskyites invented a number of new tactics at the time, including

  1. accusing anyone who questions unlimited immigration of being racist.
  2. accusing anyone who criticizes Islam of being Islamophobic to shut down criticism