In this digital era, anything can be faked; followers, news, experts, emails and so on. The possibilities are limited only by the imagination of the faker. It turns out that these issues were addressed back in 1996, by Carl Sagan, the world-famous astronomer. His context was UFO’s, but his formula for separating facts from fiction is even more applicable today. He called his 9-step process “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection” and described it in his best-selling book, The Demon Haunted World. Here is a summary:
- Whenever possible, there must be independent confirmation of the “facts”
- Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents
- Do not overweight arguments from so called authorities
- Spin more than one hypothesis for the evidence
- Try not to get too attached to your own hypothesis
- Quantify competing hypotheses
- If using a chained argument, every link must work
- Occam’s Razor: choose the simpler of two hypotheses
- Can the hypothesis be tested?
Keep this list in mind when you are confronted with information that may have significant consequences for you.