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Rules of Thumb


Zen & Understanding the Middle East

Sellers' Market
Will to Believe
Rules of Thumb

"The truth is out there "
Use & misuse of words
False information signals more false information
Technical whiz-bang
Understand the Context
Lies, More Lies, Damn Lies and Newspapers
Beware of Generalizations
Theology and scripture
Misleading Statistics
Smoke in your eyes: a picture can be worth a thousand lies
What is Missing?
Myth versus fact versus narrative
The past was not like the present; the future will be different

Fallacy Recognition in the Middle East

Fallacies and Arguments
Cause and Effect
Slippery Slope
Gambler's Fallacy
Ad Hominem
Appeal to Novelty
Appeal to Emotion
Appeal to Tradition
False Dilemma or Black and White Thinking
Special Pleading
The Spotlight Fallacy
Who is to Say?

Fallacy Handbook

Rules of Thumb

For those without the time or patience to get into details, following are a few rules of thumb that will serve you well in distinguishing hoaxes from reality. All of these rules are common sense, but you would be surprise how often these rules are ignored. The people who peddle fake watches, get rich quick stock tips, and potions that are supposed to make you live forever all make a living because their victims do not follow the rules. Tyrants and dictators and cultists could not flourish if people really followed these rules.

Here are the most important ones:

  1. Be skeptical
  2. Don't be convinced by a single source
  3. Check the nature and bias of sources
  4. Do not spread rumors
  5. Remember that there have to be two sides to every story. Be sure to get both of them.
  6. Don't trust "alternative sources" unless there is a good reason. The truth may be "out there," but they generally do not have it.
  7. Check information and basic facts.
  8. Beware of slogans and catchwords like "justice," "legal," "holy."
  9. Beware of misuse of documents, quotes and statistics - they often seem very persuasive
  10. Pictures are very convincing, but they can be very misleading
  11. Don't be swayed by appeals that rest only on emotion.
  12. Don't adopt an opinion just because it is popular or politically correct.

Be skeptical - Don't believe anything until you are pretty sure it is true, especially about supposed information that confirms your point of view or tells you something you wish were true. If someone promises to make you rich with a tiny investment, it is probably a swindle, and if someone tells you something you really want to believe about the Middle East, it is very possibly false.

Don't spread rumors - Never disseminate rumors or opinions that come in unsigned e-mails, are written up in books of doubtful repute or at obscure Web sites, unless you can check out the facts that they cite.

Single source - Never believe information that comes only from one source and that cannot be confirmed.

Two sides of the story - Never believe a media story that did not ask for comment by all concerned parties. Be skeptical about a media story that tells only one side. There almost always has to be another side to every story. BBC lost its credibility when it chose to exclusively highlight stories of suffering from Lebanon in the Hezbollah-Israel war of 2006, and ignored fatalities and destruction inflicted by the Hezbollah. Always look for a description of the same event from different sources: a "neutral" source, a source that supports one side in the conflict, and a source that supports the other side. If the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram states that Israel is injecting Palestinian children with AIDS virus, check if this "story" (untrue) made the New York Times or an Israeli newspaper.

Who is the source? Who are we talking about - Always check the political bias of a source of information or commentator. If an organization is mentioned in a story, such as the Hezbollah "militants" or the Hamas "resistance," you can and should check the charter and activities of that organization, especially if the organization is disseminating the story.


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