Show your work

De-bunking, the joy of fact-checkers and know-it-alls everywhere, is so two weeks ago. NBC News says that the new thing is “pre-bunking”. While the term may trigger thoughts of media bias and censorship – “that post has been removed” – it is actually something quite different. 

Researchers from Cambridge University wanted to explain “in simple, nonpartisan language some of the most common manipulation techniques” used to spread misinformation on YouTube. They created a series of cartoons which were released into the wilds of the internet back in 2020 to discover whether explaining how manipulation works would stop people from being manipulated. 

The video project, named “Inoculation Science” (yeah, we noticed that too..) explains principles which sound much like ancient Greek rules for making arguments. Discerning the relevance, clarity, and assumptions of a truth-claim is what any knowledge of logical fallacies helps you do! So knowing your ad hominen from your red herring and your begging the question from a motte and bailey is what you need before you open your browser. 

Visual Capitalist produced a handy chart outlining a 21st-century logical fallacy list showcasing what to look for when engaging modern media. From “filter bubbles” to “infotainment” to good ol’ “cherry picking”, readers will recognize many of the tactics deployed by even the most elite publications. 

Another interesting resource we found comes from WNYC Radio. Almost 10 years ago, they released a media guide for assessing breaking news, and it’s still relevant today. In the aftermath of headline-grabbing events, they warn “news outlets will get it wrong”. So waiting for facts to be revealed is a wise move.  

They also advise not to trust media that use anonymous sources or those news outlets that cite each other as sources. It is prudent to compare multiple sources to get a clearer picture of what is true. Finally, resist the urge to post “reflexively” on social media. As they say, that’s on you. 

Everyone is making claims – in advertising, in marketing, in news, and on social media. Even a purely emotional statement is an attempt to win you over to a point of view. However, few folks are willing to lay out their reasoning or invite scrutiny of their conclusions. With tenets of the culture war rising to the level of a religion for the chattering classes, no one really wants to defend their argument –  it’s simpler to label any interlocutors as enemies. Just believe me. If you don’t,  you’re clearly not one of the faithful and need to be shunned.

We shouldn’t be surprised when journalists and marketeers don’t show their work – both are pitching something. Don’t even expect the fact-checkers to be entirely reliable. Just remember we have more than just ancient wisdom or modern fact-checkers – we have divine wisdom shared with us on the pages of Scripture. Like a “pre-fact check” if you will, God’s Word explains how the world is because it knows what is in the hearts of men. Rev. Fisk often encourages his listeners that reading even one Proverb a day will begin to shape your understanding in a way that worldly wisdom alone cannot. 

The entrance of Your words gives light; 

It gives understanding to the simple.

(Psalm 119)

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