Ignorant people are everywhere, from distant relatives to world leaders. They prefer to wallow in willful ignorance instead of trying to find out what is verifiable and correct information about how the world works and what is just misinformation and noise pushed by ideologues and those who gain mountains of ad revenue for their clickbait spam.
It is a weaponized form of the game of telephone, whereby accurate information gets passed around in several steps while at the same mishandled and butchered to fit dogmatic narratives. People lock themselves into skewed filter bubbles and few bother to go back to the source. Not only that, active resistance to fact-checking is emerging in the current misinformation wars, including fake news, alternative facts, social media bots and even fake fact-checkers.
This article goes over six common excuses that people use to avoid spending the time and effort fact-checking. They range from the lazy to the deeply dishonest.
#1: “I just do not have the time to fact-check”
If you do not have the time to fact-check, you do not have the time to be misinformed.
The time cost of being misinformed is likely orders of magnitude higher than fact-checking, because the former makes it harder to access reliable information and gets in the way of accepting real facts about the world. Being misinformed means that you might not get an effective treatment for a medical condition, spend money unwisely, get stuck in a pyramid scheme or online casino, involve yourself in destructive political or social movements, ruin personal relationships and so on.
Like any practical skill, fact-checking might seem hard at first. How do you find the original source to claims? What databases do you search? What government department handles what issues? How do I access full-text versions of scientific publications? What should I do if some website that use to be active is no longer available? However, just like any other skill, this rapidly improves with practice. The more you do it, the more proficient you become at it and the quicker you can fact-check claims.
Considering the fact that claims are often grouped up into anti-scientific and other ideological movements, you develop an ability to tell when someone is distortion reality due to past experience and familiarity with how arguments and sources are used and abused.
You cannot fact-check everything, but doing your best is better than being complacent. You cannot fact-check everything, but you can adapt the strength of your beliefs to the strength of the evidence and the amount of fact-checking you have done.
#2: “Fact-checking is just too hard”
“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
If people gave up on things that at first seemed hard, we would have gotten nowhere as a species or as a global society. Fact-checking gets easier the more you do it, just like everything else. Practice. Invest the time. It is worth it.
#3: “Fact-checking websites are biased”
Then do your own fact-checking. not hard.
Actually, independent investigations have looked into the accuracy of fact-checking websites.
If we take the website Snopes as an example, they were critically reviewed by a competitor fact-checking website FactCheck.org in 2012 and all articles investigated, including articles about George W. Bush, Sarah Palin and Barack Obama and found them to be free of bias (cache, cache). Another competitor (cache, cache) to Snopes, David Emery who writes the urban legend section at About.com, has also critically investigated Snopes and “has found no any evidence of advocacy for or against. To the contrary, I see a consistent effort to provide even-handed analyses.”
A common claim is that the fact-checking website PolitiFact is biased because it rated conservative claims more likely to be extremely erroneous than liberals during the time period according to researcher Eric Ostermeie. However, this assumes the dubious null hypotheses that liberals and conservative politicians overall lie equally and that there were equal number of lying politicians very active during that time period.
Eric Ostermeier’s study is particularly timely because we’ve heard a lot of charges this week that we are biased — from liberals. They are unhappy with our False rulings on President Obama from his interview with Bill O’Reilly. So we’re accustomed to hearing strong reactions from people on both ends of the political spectrum.
We are a news organization and we choose which facts to check based on news judgment. We check claims that we believe readers are curious about, claims that would prompt them to wonder, “Is that true?”
We write our reports and source them in a way so that readers and other journalists can independently confirm our findings. We list all our sources so that readers can reach their own conclusions about whether they agree with us.
Finally, even if each and every fact-checking website was horribly biased, that would be an even stronger argument for why you should fact-check, not an argument against fact-checking as a method.
#4: “It threatens people’s beliefs”
Incorrect beliefs about the world should be challenged. We live in a strange world were merely the threat of “change your opinion to fit the facts” is seen by some as a legitimate argument to avoid critical thinking and fact-checking.
#5: “It challenges parental authority”
Let us for a moment accept the absurd notion that this is even a legitimate concern. The cost of not fact-checking and applying critical thinking is so substantial that the risk of challenging parental authority pales in comparison. Learning critical thinking might make parents get a few more critical questions, but it helps children and young adults to practice those skills and apply it to outside the family as well and later in their life.
It is also strange to insist that parents should have authority over facts. It is good to get children to think critically because it gives them the tools to protect themselves against potentially dangerous misinformation out there.
#6: “There are no facts, only interpretations!”
Really? Is that a fact?
…or just an interpretation?
Come back when your claims at least gets out of the “radically self-contradictory” zone.
On a slightly more serious note, this is not even an objection since it is better if interpretations are based on evidence and fact-checked than being based on nothing but opinion and predjudice.