The importance of being able to discern truth from fiction

For ten years, I wrote a newspaper column about environmental issues.  My biggest fear was always that I might get something wrong: that a mistake on my part would divert attention away from the issue I was trying to cover.  So it led me to research meticulously from multiple, credible sources.  (Perhaps because of that, nothing I wrote was ever called into serious question – phew!!)

We live in an era of greater knowledge than ever – yet misinformation, ‘fake news’ and propaganda are perhaps more prevalent than ever, thanks to the internet, and social media platforms in particular.

It’s a huge problem: fake news sows confusion and uncertainty; reinforces previously-held beliefs that are simply wrong; angers and polarizes people; and – particularly in the case of climate change – delays urgent action.

Truth matters – so here’s what you can do to discern fact from fiction:

  1. Stick to good sources.  Newspapers, especially large and longstanding ones, are among the best places for critical analysis and quality journalism.  (Very few are totally free of bias, so don’t entirely turn off your truth filter.)  Media Bias/Fact Checkand the Pew Research Center of Journalism and Mediaoffer (unbiased?) assessments of many major news organizations.
  2. Have a healthy suspicion of stories originating from think tanks and other special interest groups.  They may not be wrong, but it’s unlikely they’ll share anything that hurts their case.
  3. Look for credible references.  It’s wise to be wary of writers who cite only their own articles or research.
  4. Beware of headlines that sensationalize or exaggerate; stories that contain adjectives like ‘amazing’ or ‘revolutionary’; or web pages splashed with click-bait stories.
  5. Take the time to read balanced, well-researched and well-written pieces that challenge your own point of view.  There’s always room for added perspective and better understanding.

And – want to discern climate change fact from fiction?  Visit (and bookmark) Skeptical Science.

This great graphic from the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) summarizes a sensible approach to discerning fact from fiction in all you read; you can download it yourself here.

Fake News