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Rules of Thumb
"The truth is out there "
Fallacies and Arguments
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:
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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