10 Tips for Telling Fact From Fiction

Rely on Trustworthy Sources
When you hear some startling information, ask yourself if the person is trustworthy. Visage /Stockbyte/Getty Images

"Garbage in, garbage out" -- also known as GIGO, for short -- is a popular saying in the computer field. If you input wrong or inaccurate data when you run a software program, even if the computer runs the program perfectly, you're still going to get a wrong answer [source: Heathcote]. The same principle holds true for your brain. If you get your news and information primarily from supermarket tabloids, for example, you may think that most politicians and TV stars are either secretly dying of loathsome diseases or spending every waking moment engaging in extramarital affairs. And if you depend on ideologically strident TV commentary to stay abreast of what's going on, you may end up with some startling misconceptions. A 2011 study, for example, showed that 60 percent of the daily viewers of one conservative cable TV news channel incorrectly believed that most scientists think climate change is not occurring [source: WorldPublicOpinion.org and Knowledge Networks].

That's why just passive reading, watching and listening isn't enough to protect you against misinformation or even downright deception. Think of it this way: You wouldn't buy a used car without looking under the hood and checking the vehicle history report for accidents. Similarly, you should vet an information source, to make sure that it follows responsible journalistic practices and takes accuracy seriously. Check to see, for example, whether your newspaper runs corrections and employs an ombudsman to investigate factual disputes and answer questions from readers. To get a feel for what your news source should be doing, read this 2011 Columbia Journalism Review essay, "Eight Simple Rules for Doing Accurate Journalism" [source: Silverman].

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