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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 2/10/20

How To Spot Skepticism Triggers

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We are being played. It's not that we are stupid or gullible, at least not most of us. It's because we have not adjusted to 21st century media. Most of us lead busy lives stealing moments to check the news and keep up on local and national events. But since 1980 the amount of information there is to "check" has been exploding geometrically. We have become more vulnerable to disinformation than we have ever been because we no longer rely upon trusted journalist intermediaries. The era of Walter Cronkite's integrity is largely over.

Though we celebrate the unprecedented ease of access to a worldwide audience, we are largely powerless to selectively tune out deceptive internet communications. This universal freedom of communication is a good thing. The problem comes when open media is exploited to deceive.

In the following paragraphs I offer some basic tools to help readers recognize the mendacity propagated in open source media, or any communication. These are adapted from the book "Credible?" Dr. Susan Mehrtens and I published in 2019.

How to Spot Skepticism Triggers

Let's suppose that you've found an article in the magazine section of your paper that's of interest. You don't recognize the author, and it's not attributable to any institutional source. How can you evaluate credibility?

Every writer has a voice and a style, actually a palate of styles. How something is said may be as important as what is said. Certain features should trigger your skepticism. We should note that skepticism is not cynicism: cynics see no hope and promote despair. Skepticism is also not negative; it's another word for "authentic doubt" for it fosters asking good questions. Honest skeptics are open to authentic, accurate information. Let us use intellect and be curious, hopeful, visionary, and also know what to watch for so we don't get snookered.

Here is my list of signs and signals that herald an argument that is not grounded in objective fact:

Skepticism Triggers

1. Extreme or absolute phrasing. (Words like always and never which allow for no exceptions.

2. Characterizations. Adjectives that attribute merit or adjectives that demean without factual support; stereotyping, epithets, smack talk (e.g. lowlife, retard), slurs, sneers, honorifics, cloaking (e.g. famous, notorious). ("Outstanding authority John Smith..." "Discredited activist judge Jim Jones...")

3. Citation of anonymous authority. ("A nationally famous physician states...")

4. Absence of contrary information. (Writer withholds or fails to discuss dissenting opinion and conflicting data).

5. Ad homonym arguments that appeal to feelings rather than reason. (Many rants are passionate and evoke prejudices while lacking factual substance.)

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Richmond Shreve is a retired business executive whose careers began in electronics (USN) and broadcasting in the 1960s. Over the years he has maintained a hobby interest in amateur radio, and the audio-visual arts while working in sales and (more...)

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1 people are discussing this page, with 1 comments  Post Comment

David Wieland

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This is excellent insight in almost every respect. The markers that should trigger skepticism in consuming media are clearly listed. But the article is marred by revealing a disappointing lack of skepticism on the author's part.

This is most glaring in the climate change example. He fails to notice how the alarmists apply many of the techniques he decries.

Some examples:

- Fostering Doubt: Dismissing the possibility that anyone not adhering to the claimed consensus could have anything important to say.

- Characterizations. "Adjectives that attribute merit or adjectives that demean without factual support; stereotyping, epithets, smack talk (e.g. lowlife, retard), slurs, sneers, honorifics, cloaking (e.g. famous, notorious). ("Outstanding authority John Smith..." "Discredited activist judge Jim Jones...")"

This is exactly what the alarmists are guilty of when smearing dissenting voices.

- Ad homonym phrasing: Employed routinely in dismissing dissent.

- Innuendo, insinuation, an indirect statement that implies something without directly asserting it; amplification of a trivial detail; sarcasm, satire, ridicule. Employed relentlessly in bolstering alarm over selected minor or localized examples and in attacking dissenters.

- Denial. The refusal to even consider well known conflicting information, dismissing it or ignoring it.

Big time!

- Sophism. Clever or fallacious argument that leads to a wrong conclusion.

The never-validated greenhouse gas theory demonizing carbon dioxide.

- Emotional manipulation: outrage, pity, hate, fear, pathos, other appeals to mood; fear mongering.

Fear mongering is the primary tool of alarmists.

- Hidden agenda cues: dismissive tone, money motive (shock jocks, click bait), obvious lack of balance (partisan)...

This is strongly evident in the climate alarm and dismissal of dissent.

- Writing that sounds like a sales pitch (one-sided and persuasively phrased).

Practically everything promoting climate alarm.

- Anecdotes as evidence of a general truth.

Video productions of thawing permafrost in selected communities, wildfires destroying expensive homes (built in known but ignored danger zones), etc.

- Mendacity: falsehoods, lies, fabricated context (spin, framing), misleading graphics

Classic example is the infamous "hockey stick" graph created by stitching together two different data sets, the first of which is a poor proxy for temperature.

- Non-accountability and dirty tricks: lack of peer review; timing to prevent rebuttal; asymmetrical media (viral email); shell organizations; astro-turfing (phony grass-roots organizations)

Climategate emails revealed dirty tricks and "pal review" instead of proper peer review.

Submitted on Friday, Feb 14, 2020 at 6:47:59 AM

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