Is That a Fact?

It does not matter much what you read, it will invariably be full of asserted facts and opinions. Often it can be difficult to tell the difference. It is important however to learn to discern fact from opinion when reading for information. Critical reading is part art and part science. It is a skill one learns over time from lots of reading and fact checking.

Most of us however do not have time to check every assertion in everything we read to determine if it is a fact. So here are some tips on how to separate fact from opinion on the fly:

1. First consider the source. Is the author known to you? Does the author have a reputation for accuracy? Is the author often bombastic and sloppy or is he devoted to accuracy? While an author’s general reputation is important your own experience with that author is also of value. No matter what “they” think, if you have found the author’s work to be questionable then take nothing at face value.

2. Does the author use absolutes? Does he speak in terms of always, never, every time, completely, totally, etc? This should be a red flag. While on occasion an absolutes are true they often are not. Life is rarely black and white. Reality is most often painted in shades of gray. Writing that steers clear of most absolutes and examines the subtlety of a subject is generally more reliable. 

3. Does the author know what he is talking about? Is this a subject about which he has some genuine familiarity if not expertise? People write about all kinds of things – that does not mean they know what they are talking about.

4. Does the author clearly label fact, fiction and opinion? If the author is not willing to tell you what is fact and what is not, how are you to trust him?

5. Beware of generalities. It is difficult to write most anything, including this article, without adopting some generalities. However they can be misleading. Almost every generality has exceptions and often the exceptions are as important as the general rule. Does the author understand that and where appropriate point it out? 

6. Is a fact really a fact? Science is a constantly moving target. I like to say that yesterday’s theory is today’s fact and tomorrow’s myth. Science is continually coming up with new theories and debunking old ones. Take all scientific fact with a healthy dose of skepticism. Water boils at 100° C. and freezes at 0° C. That is a fact. It is a fact if it is at sea level and the water is pure and nothing is altering the atmospheric pressure. There are, however, relatively few facts such as these that are reasonably reliable. 

7. Does the author have an agenda? Most do. If the author is trying to persuade you about something this should cause you to heighten your skepticism. Most authors do not write in a balanced way when they are trying to persuade. They select helpful facts and often ignore those that do not support their thesis. 

8. Do you find yourself sympathetic to the author, his point of view or his argument from the beginning? If so you need to be even more critical in your analysis. When we agree with someone we tend not to listen critically. We accept more at face value. Try reading something by a source you do not trust or agree with and see how much more critically you view the author’s assertions. That level of critical thinking is too often absent when we read what we like or agree with. 

9. Is a myth really a myth? Authors are often bent on revealing and dispelling a myth. It may well be because it is a myth and should be questioned. It may also be that the challenged “myth” is simply something the author does not agree with. 

10. Is the author’s assertion dramatic, revolutionary or difficult at first to believe? Listen to your instincts. It is true that new ground is plowed every day by innovators and those who discover that what we used to think is not really true. Albert Einstein turned the world of physics on its head a hundred years ago by challenging known “facts”. Yet many of his colleagues viewed his early writing with great skepticism and rightly so. Those who seek to change our understanding of the world have the burden to prove that the new view is more accurate. 

The more critically you read the more accurately you learn. Resist the temptation to take things at face value. Much that is written is not accurate or wholly accurate. Many writers mix opinion with speculation and a bit of fact here and there. The more you learn to view all assertions, including this one, with a healthy dose of skepticism the less often you will be misled and the more often you will learn the truth. 

Wishing you success and prosperity,
Daniel R. Murphy

Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.

Wishing you Success and Prosperity,

Daniel R. Murphy

Wishing you well,

Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.