I read an interesting article from Intellectual Takeout titled, “Pew: 3 in 4 Americans Have Trouble Discerning Between Fact and Opinion” by Anne Holmquist that I thought would be good for us to ponder.
A Pew study found that less than 20 percent of first-year college students are able to tell the difference between fact and opinion. That’s bad enough, but the adults didn’t fare much better.
According to the same study, only one in four adults (26%) could distinguish between factual statements and opinion statements in the news (Pew Research article).
Holmquist also quotes educator and author, Richard Weaver, who says in his book, Ideas Have Consequences, that our inability to discern facts from opinion is from our constant bombardment with information that’s keeping us from discerning the core, root principles which can help us sort our thoughts. Here’s what Weaver said:
“The whole tendency of modern thought, one might say its whole moral impulse, is to keep the individual busy with endless induction. Since the time of Bacon the world has been running away from, rather than toward, first principles, so that, on the verbal level, we see ‘fact’ substituted for ‘truth,’ and on the philosophic level, we witness attack upon abstract ideas and speculative inquiry.”
While the Pew Research was mainly about what we believe to be “facts” in the news, it seems this principle applies to just about every area of our lives. And, as Weaver pointed out, it goes much deeper.
Facts or Truth?
As Sherlock Holmes would say, there are the facts and then there are the conclusions we draw from the facts that may or may not be the truth. It seems we moderns don’t know the difference.
What’s interesting to me about all this is that whether one is a theist or atheist, politically left or right, conservative or liberal, we all have our “facts” that we state like they are dogmatic truth. We may even sincerely believe they are the truth, but we don’t realize that they’re often no more than our particular viewpoint: at best, based on educated conclusions from “experts” (teachers, theologians, scientists, government officials, etc.). And these “expert” conclusions are also swayed by their personal bias.
By the way, I just stated an opinion and presented it like a fact. 🙂
Conversely (in my opinion), people can be just as dogmatic in their subjectivism. They seem to think we can’t know anything for certain. I see this as just as dangerous as rigid certitude to furthering meaningful communication and cultural progress.
While there are certainly many things, even important things, in this world that are subjective, based in inductive reasoning (inference to the best explanation, not provable), nonetheless, there are also truths that are based in deductive reasoning (inferences from general laws that are provable). For example, mathematics and logic utilize deductive reasoning, science and theology may or may not.
I believe it’s helpful if we understand these things, especially about ourselves. For whatever side you fall on with regard to societal issues and worldviews will greatly influence how you read the news, discern facts versus fiction, even what you believe to be true about life itself.
Here’s the thing. Even if what you believe to be true is factually true, it may not be provable (or disprovable). It may just come down to matter of faith (I talked about this in my post, “Faith Matters“). Understanding this just makes us better human beings…but that’s my view.
Take the Quiz!
Okay, back to the article. Can you tell the difference between factual and opinion news statements? Take the Pew quiz and find out! Start here…