Bullspotting: Finding Facts in the Age of Misinformation

My grandmother used to say, “He who’s convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” And some people don’t seem to care what the facts are. How do we arm ourselves so that we don’t indulge in this kind of thinking? While all of us have our cherished illusions, we can learn to separate fact from myth.

Loren Collins is a practicing lawyer in Georgia and publishes articles in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on misinformation and critical thinking. Collins outlines the basics of false belief systems and how to spot them. He takes on birthers, the pseudoscience of anti-vaxxers and moon-hoaxers, and a number of other conspiracy theories and logical fallacies.

In our age of lightning-fast opportunities to spread rumors, we need to develop critical thinking skills and a little skepticism. Facts, evidence based arguments, and credibility of testimony are important tools in determining the truth. For example, in the vaccine controversy these statistics are sited:

The number of illnesses from June 3, 2007 to August 11, 2012 that could have been prevented by vaccinations is 102,961; the number of preventable deaths is 1,016; and the number of autism diagnoses scientifically linked to vaccinations is 0. These statistics come from the Centers for Disease Control, Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports and National Vital Statistics Reports.

Collins also gives a number of resources for quick fact checking such as Snopes.com, sciencebasedmedicine.org, or FactCheck.org. So before you pass on that alarmist email, go to the source or at least check it out at Snopes.com and stay well-informed.

-Review by Janet T., Reference Librarian

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