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Efficacy of Information Online and Elsewhere

 
pollinator
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Location: SW Ohio
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This irks me a great deal, we all know that not everything online (and in books for that matter) can be trusted as as factual as it's being presented. What are some things we can look for to help us identify questionable articles and information, and what are your gripes?
Personally what I detest is when writers either A) misrepresent data to cause an emotional reaction in the reader, or B) prey on the emotions of the reader to get them to accept skewed data or charged interpretations of the information. Basically when people pick at our emotions to try to manipulate how we see the world around us, or affect our behavior.

We know this is an established tradition that's been used to validate all sorts of cultural gobbletygoop for centuries, and it's not going to stop anytime soon. But how can we protect ourselves from lying logic-disrupters, and help ourselves and our pupils discern well and make good decisions?
Furthermore, what measures can we take to present information in a way that's easy to fact-check, and to allow our readers to use their brains to see our points without resorting to logical fallacies?
It's true that not everyone cares enough to research for themselves, so a lot of people are easy to manipulate/need to be led on account of their disinterest or ineptitude. There's not much we can do to protect these if we're not part of their daily lives. But I think that what we can do is to share as much useful and tried information as possible, to help increase the shared/common knowledge pool (especially about permaculture!) to make it easier for people to cooperate in a wholesome manner going forward.
 
master pollinator
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For me it helps to read/watch/listen to enough of a person's content to begin to get a sense of their personal philosophy and point of view.  Here on permies, many people post frequently about their own experiences and observations, so one can get an idea of how they develop their practices, and any biases they may consistently exhibit.  I find most people here on permies to be straight-forward and ready to answer questions about their techniques.  People who are evasive don't seem to stick around here for long.
 
gardener
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Sadly I have reached the point that if a site or source is new to me, I have to assume it's a "door to door sales rep" trying to sell me something until I see otherwise. It feels like the amount of real data on the internet has gone from 99% 20 years ago to now 10%, and the amount of advertising has went from 1% of total data to 90%.

It's common marketing practice to play up an emotional response for a perceived problem, building up the response as much as possible, then dropping the solution with a big easy to click purchase link.

I think it's quite hard to properly fact check anything online. A hundred web sites might all say the same thing, but if they are all repeating the same wrong info it doesn't make it right. Even non-internet sources can be wrong, intentionally or not. Remember when the sugar industry hired doctors to perjure themselves to congress in the 1970s about the safety of sugar use? Which got the US to demonize "unhealthy" fat and replace it with "healthy, low-fat" sugar? Each decade a new diet comes up claiming to fix our ever growing weight problems, without addressing the underlying issue of relying on "industrial" foods with dropping nutritional value.

I better crawl off this soapbox before I fall off, waving my arms about like this!
 
master pollinator
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I look for the sales pitch or hook. What are they trying to sell? Who paid for the research?

Also usually blatant is the emotional jab. If they're trying to make you angry or upset, they are clearly not wanting you to think rationally.

Good luck trying to sort fact from fiction. If you're careful, it's only the really hard-working, clever scheisters that will get you and your money.

-CK
 
pollinator
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Tyler Ludens wrote:For me it helps to read/watch/listen to enough of a person's content to begin to get a sense of their personal philosophy and point of view.  Here on permies, many people post frequently about their own experiences and observations, so one can get an idea of how they develop their practices, and any biases they may consistently exhibit.  I find most people here on permies to be straight-forward and ready to answer questions about their techniques.  People who are evasive don't seem to stick around here for long.


I agree pretty much with Tyler's statement.

Something I look for, both with online posts and with books, is a journal- or diary-like way of reporting.  Let's say someone has been experimenting or working with a particular approach to achieving something.  I give some creedance if they can recount, say, five years worth of experience (10 is even better) — and if they report both their failures (shortcomings, frustrations) on the one hand, and their success on the other, so much the better.  I don't really trust anything that is just a report on two or three years experience with something.

I don't really mean that the style of presentation has to be like a journal, but that the reference to someone's multi-year experience is there.  And I feel that is something that is kinda hard to fake.
 
pollinator
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Sarah Koster wrote:This irks me a great deal, we all know that not everything online (and in books for that matter) can be trusted as as factual as it's being presented. What are some things we can look for to help us identify questionable articles and information, and what are your gripes?
.



I like it here on Permies that people are so open about how they came to the conclusions they did. Transparency, telling the good and the bad about your solution, stating the limitations of your research/ experience, those are the things I look for.


I recently read a research paper that looked very good at first glance. It had the name of a famous university on the cover. I was ready to believe their conclusion about the prevalence of a certain social phenomenon in the world. But then I read the methods section. The study was based on newspaper articles about that social phenomenon. The professors had analysed how many times the subject had been mentioned in certain chosen newspapers in their certain chosen countries. The rest of the findings were expert estimates. From many countries only one expert had been interviewed.
What's amazing to me is that in the conclusions part of the paper the researchers claimed to know the number of people involved and even the exact sums of money that this phenomenon had cost the governments in question, yet all of it was really based on one person's opinion in many cases.  The researchers were transparent, I will give them credit for that, in that they did describe their method. But they did not admit what to me looked like severe limitations in their approach. Therefore, I wouldn't consider this paper as trustworthy or factual. (I wouldn't say that the researchers were wrong either. I would just say that I need more research until I can make up my own mind about the matter.)





 
pollinator
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I believe there is actually established practice regarding truth seeking. It predates good journalism which is a kind of off-shoot. Historians have always looked for "original sources". Islam has very detailed and codified practices used to verify the likely truth or falseness of an individual's statements.

"Fact" is not the same as "Truth".

I doubt "facts" are immutable. In common usage a "fact" is a fairly specific assertion that _most_ people won't argue with and would find at least plausible. It is short hand for a point of agreement between people communicating which allows moving on to the more germane issues. Because it's actually pretty resource intensive to fact check we can probably not look to any simple yes/no solution. Communication happens between people who... Are not machines. Tyler, I think, described the most general purpose approach - context and history of the source and the topic.

I have become aware of  (got beat over the head by) the cultural issue only in the last several years. While I haven't studied in depth, I have thought a little and paid attention to likely articles when I see them. It looks to me that in the end it comes down to the same principle displayed when people guess how many pennies in a quart jar - many, many guesses end up averaging very close to the actual count. It  looks like a fact "grows" and solidifies.

I don't think this is the usual view of a "fact". But I think it's a more useful one for understanding what we are doing when we try to establish facts.


Cheers,
Rufus
 
Posts: 538
Location: Middle Georgia
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Sarah Koster wrote:
But how can we protect ourselves from lying logic-disrupters, and help ourselves and our pupils discern well and make good decisions?



As far as pupils are concerned, I would say teach them deductive reasoning. give them lots of examples of how data can be skewed, and also teach them HISTORY. When it comes to political/social issues it has all be done before so there are lots of great examples. If they become aware of the various forms of propaganda, and how people expected A to be the outcome but then it turned into B etc... that makes them more skeptical and hopefully a little less eager to jump on the bandwagon when someone comes up with a "new" idea that sounds just fabulous, or when someone comes up with a study that claims to solve all the worlds problems.

Now if you are talking about "how to" type info that is completely different. I simply cross reference. If other sources confirm then it is good. If one source has been "fact checked" and come out great each time then I may just start trusting that source for matters on that topic.
 
Rufus Laggren
pollinator
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> pupils... history...

+1. But kids internalize what they feel like, not what they memorize for tests, so it's kinda up to them in the end.

Instilling a belief that there _is_ something to learn and some truth to be found and it's worth finding and taking the trouble and bearing the cost of not denying - that seems like the most basic goal. But how? For sure, I'm no teacher. A talker maybe, but I don't have a clue how to encourage barbarians (er, children...) on the "right" path.


Rufus
 
pollinator
Posts: 204
Location: Australia, Canberra
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My emotional IQ is pretty much zero and I am an engineer...

Before I embark on a learning process, I try to read/watch as much diverse authors as I can, to see the geographical differences in implementation.

Compare it with science available and try to interpret the raw data myself (if raw data is available).

These days, science is done for whoever is funding the research though. So I also read the conspiracy theorists too.

Things get clearer only when I do the implementation myself as every researchers variables are different than each other. I like to think holistically for that reason and close to nature as much as I can rather than in a lab setting.

Honestly, more exposure to bs makes you a perfect distinguisher of knowledge. So kids should experience this too with adult guidance, though when I tried to teach my kids that "they can not get free robux by subscribing to a youtube channel" didn't work well. Once they believe in something, they really believe in. I think a healthy dose of skepticism should be planted in them somehow. Strangely, they learnt not to click on advertisement banners by themselves which is an advancement in their technology usage.
 
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