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Ostende, non dice

Opinions come in a wide variety of flavors. Experience tells us this is the case, as well as a quick glance around social media and the podcast circuit. How does one even begin to sort out all the conflicting proclamations and identify reasonably accurate information?

For starters, some of us feel it's important to recognize whether we're observing, by definition, a stated opinion or an assertion of fact. The former may be allowed much tolerance, up to a point of irresponsibly promoting what might be considered harmful beliefs which are easily proven false. Otherwise, someone is pretty much entitled to whatever opinions they choose. It might be questioned if an individual seems disproportionately concerned about leading others to agree with their chosen opinion, but they are nonetheless entitled to believe as they wish.

An assertion of fact, however, is another matter. Suggestions of the reality of certain phenomena, occurrence of supposed events, accusations leveled against people, and similar circumstances carry burdens of proof. Many people and even organizations show no interest in meeting such burdens. They are often content to do no more than post on social media and casually chat about their unverified assertions. In contrast, some others are much more rigorous in their research activities.

Standards of evidence are essential to the rigorous researcher and those who wish to separate the proverbial signal from noise. Science journalist and author Sarah Scoles aptly addressed the topic when asked to provide content for a 2021 blogpost at The UFO Trail, Discerning Truth. Scoles pointed out how sources and attribution are key parts of a functional reporting process.

“[L]ook at how much the piece relies on the word of its sources (turns out, people can say pretty much anything they want!), versus harder, more verifiable evidence,” Scoles wrote. “For example, 'Aliens landed on the White House roof, according to a guy who says he saw it happen' versus 'four people who described the same thing independently' versus 'security footage and genetic analysis' versus 'a declassified document.'”

A challenge when failing to remain actively aware of the standards as described by Scoles often arises due to the utter volume of subpar articles, misleading statements, and outright incorrect assertions. We are regularly (and effectively, it might be added) bombarded from a host of platforms with simply wrong information.

Compounding the problem is the likelihood we tend to start believing that which we hear most often. It, therefore, takes ongoing conscious decisions to remain vigilant in separating fact from fiction through embracing quality standards of evidence. Otherwise, we are at high risk of succumbing to confirmation bias and unwittingly spreading false or, at best, yet to be verified notions and concepts.

When it comes to making assertions as compared to casually stating opinions, “Show, don't tell” is a good rule to both adopt and note in the work of others. Or, as recently suggested to me, the phrase is known in Latin, Ostende, non dice.

Jack Brewer


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