Thursday, June 03, 2021

A Reminder

      Just because you like what a website, newspaper or network is saying, just because it resonates with you, that doesn't mean it's true.  That doesn't mean it's unbiased.

      The Ad Fontes Media Bias Chart remains the most accurate set of ratings I have found.  They sort news and opinion outlets on both bias (Left/Right) and accuracy/reliability (on the vertical axis).   You'll find most of the major U.S. networks and newspapers high in accuracy and Left of center to a greater or lesser extent -- about where I'd rank them.

      Epoch Times and Gateway Pundit are way out to the Right -- okay, they are -- and way, way low in reliability.  That unreliability is a problem: they publish things that are of dubious provenance.  Things that are poorly attributed, not well-supported by the facts or the experts and possibly even made up.

      Political bias is one thing; everyone's got an opinion and they're entitled to it.  But while you get your own opinion to have and to hold, you don't get your own set of facts.  And if you feed yourself a steady diet of non-factual "facts," you end up off in cloud-cuckooland, believing six impossible things before breakfast.  It may be great fun or at least a great comfort, but it's a dangerously bad set of tools for coping with the real world.  Sooner or later, that path will leave you stranded in fantasy with no way back and a surplus of anger.

      Things don't get better from there.

      Seek media that makes you a little uncomfortable.  Cross-check the claims that bug you.  Cross-check the stuff you like.  Don't just follow one guy's website, linking to itself.  Go back to the source material whenever you can and then check that the source is real and reliable.  Don't assume everyone who smiles and agrees with you is your friend.


Jerry said...


Joseph said...

Another thing to add: If you can check something yourself, check it yourself. If you hear that face masks block oxygen, check it yourself with an oximeter. If you hear that vaccination makes your arm magnetic, check it yourself with a magnet. If you hear that the sky is covered in chemtrails, go outside and look up.

Roberta X said...

Joseph, when making such direct tests, it is vital -- and difficult -- to bear in mind that we are all very capable of fooling ourselves.

Oximeter self-tests can be subjective, especially if you start with a strong opinion one way or the other and can see the display throughout the test run.

Likewise, I live in a city with a large airport; if I go outdoors and look up, there are pretty much always going to be contrails in the sky. I think they're mostly water vapor, but in all fairness,I haven't climbed up and taken samples. My opinion that "chemtrails" are a paranoid fantasy cannot be proven or refuted by the readily-available evidence of my eyes.

And while it's difficult for J. Random Guy to fake a suddenly-magnetizable arm, even a small perception that a magnet is "trying to stick" to their arm can be taken as proof by someone inclined to believe.

There's a reason for rigorous design of experiments and procedures in scientific research; there's a reason for having control examples and looking for parallel checks. (Richard Feynman's investigation into engineering confidence, fault-checking/reporting and chains of command and communication for the Space Shuttle's liquid-fueled Main Engine as a part of his investigation of the solid-fuel rocket problems that caused the Challenger disaster is a good example of a parallel check.) These are habits of thought and procedure that few of us develop -- and more of us should.

Roberta X said...

I have decided to not publish a couple of very specific comments, because I think they will tend to move discussion off into the weeds of quibbles and side-issues.

One was amused at the "experts" cited in a highly-biased, low-reliability publication, which is kind of a "water is wet" observation. Source that publishes BS has published BS? Yes. That's what they do.

The other took exception to the Ad Fontes evaluation methodology in a way that would be highly pertinent if they were to be a source of high-precision categorization. While the Ad Fontes people may see themselves as that, I do not. I take their graphic presenting results as a kind of general probabilistic curve, in which the relative positions of the sources rated offer a good notion of their dependability and partisanship.

The general outline of self-proclaimed news providers on the chart forms a capital lambda or inverted-V shape, which I find a little disappointing: I had expected to find at least a few highly partisan news providers that were nevertheless generally accurate, and a few unbiased ones that were nevertheless peddling nonsense.

This is not the observed case. Partisanship, Left or Right, is strongly correlated with unreliability. NBC and CBS might just looooove them some Joe Biden and lead off their news segments with a story about the positive accomplishments of his administration, but they won't have made any of it up and they will get around to the rest of the news later on in their coverage or further down the web page. Conversely, a story at "Red State" or "Occupy Democrats" is likely to be iffy, and by the time you're out there with "Alternet" or "Natural News," if they tell you the sky is blue, I'd advise taking a look outside and calling a few friends for confirmation before you take it as fact.

UPI (to my surprise; they're much smaller than they once were and have passed through a number of controversial owners), "The Hill," "Fortune" and a site called "The Tangle" come pretty close to being both reliable and not very biased; if you want to look into something from a more-biased provider, they would be good places to check up on it. Nobody's entirely neutral but the honest sources do their best to be fair, with reasonable success at it.

Glenn Kelley said...

The beliefs you hold strongest are the ones that you should question the hardest.