Critical Thinking Conquers Disinformation
Division and incivility across the nation have become a concern for many Americans, and we see that same division right here in Hudson. Americans have always held dissenting views, and Hudson will always have residents who disagree, but we can get past the division and incivility. I am a strong supporter of the first amendment, which protects free speech, religion, and the press. It also protects the ability to protest peacefully and to petition the government. Freedom of speech and expression is vital for identifying issues, debating to raise creative solutions, and implementing an appropriate path forward to address the problems. We can accomplish none of these steps effectively without an individual's right to free speech. Without free speech supported by critical dialogue, we lose creativity and diversity in our solutions.
The division and incivility we currently see are based, at least in part, on the fact that we've lost the ability to analyze an argument and discuss dissenting positions based on fact and critical thinking. Misinformation, disinformation, and personal attacks amplify the friction in dissenting discussion and distract from the real issues. Misinformation and disinformation undermine critical dialogue that provides common understanding and solutions. While misinformation is false information shared without the intent to mislead, manufactured information deliberately created or disseminated to deceive or cause harm is disinformation. Disinformation undermines the basis for a productive discussion and further contributes to the division and incivility we are experiencing.
I've heard it proposed that the solution is to suppress dissenting opinions to ensure we all see "one truth." I would contend that censorship is not the answer. Censorship suppresses free speech and undermines the foundation of a free society. It erodes the ability for unpopular dissent to challenge the status quo and inhibits our ability to learn and grow. In contrast, I propose that a community capable of critical thinking is the best defense against inaccurate and deceptive information. Improving our critical thinking and evaluation of the information is a key to addressing the division.
As you seek news in your daily life, evaluate your sources for credibility and bias. Credibility is the trustworthiness of the source based on the strength of its evidence and its integrity over time. Does the source use strong, factual evidence and present honest arguments? How knowledgeable is the source on the topic they are proposing? Bias is more evident when a statement is heavily opinionated or one-sided and relies on unsupported or unsubstantiated claims. Bias is commonly seen when a source presents highly selected facts that lean to a specific outcome or pretends to present facts but offers only an opinion. Bias can be present in numerous ways, including political ideology, religious affiliation, financial influence, or simply a self-serving agenda.
"Just remember the best good lies have an element of truth, but the critical mind can identify the weak foundation."
In addition to whether or not you support the source's credibility and understand their bias, evaluate the argument itself. Do verifiable facts directly support the source's reason? Does the author provide sufficient evidence to support generalizations and prove the statement? Has the author loaded the argument with strong, emotional appeal instead of providing sufficient valid evidence? If you want to understand the topic and multiple perspectives, try to argue the opposing view. Argue against your stance. Counterarguments are crucial to disproving misinformation and disinformation. It may seem silly at first, but the more you do it, the more you will understand weaknesses in your argument and the strengths of the opposing argument. This process isn't intended to change your mind, but to move each of us away from the isolated divisive positions we can find ourselves in, and create a holistic understanding of issues where we can find better solutions.
We all have our individual biases, and information sources will also have a bias. It is important to understand our own bias and the bias of any sources that we rely on. I recommend the "All Sides" app for general news with a source bias label. I've found it very credible and the labels to be accurate. Fact-checkers and bias labelers are just as likely as primary sources to have bias and include it in their "source evaluation." Fact and bias checkers are just another source that should be evaluated for credibility and bias.
From talking to many of you during the past year, we want to address the division and incivility in Hudson. The first step is for each of us to practice critical thinking in our daily lives and evaluate our sources of information for credibility and bias. When we have assessed our own sources appropriately, we have a much lower chance of spreading misinformation and causing unnecessary division. While there will always be differing opinions and ideas, we as a community can begin to work together effectively and move forward if we collectively seek credible information on the issues that affect our community. Appreciating others' views is possible without the need to agree with them.