How To Get Your Facts Right, Fast

Get-your-facts-right“Don’t read, watch or listen to any news if you want to get things done. News just distract you by making you worried about stuff that most likely doesn’t affect you anyway.”
This one productivity tip is floating around in the interwebs for a while now. I don’t agree. I think it is important to stay informed about what is going on around us.

Whether these news worry us, however, is a choice we make. When we want to succeed in life we’ll sooner or later have to make decisions. We’ll also have to learn to live with inconvenient and unfortunate events and news in our own lives and have to decide how to handle them and how to react to them. Building an opinion on various topics that are in the news is therefore an excellent exercise in decision making.

For that we have to consider pros and cons until we reach a decision about how we think about a topic. We should approach important decision in our lives at least with the same caution. So no harm in practicing how to get a round view of a topic, right?

I readily admit there are many questions out there for which I don’t have clear yes or no answers. At least not without amending the questions accordingly. Examples, are electric cars, spinach, and statistics. But I think it is important to gather enough information to understand the intricacies of important topics.

“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.” Mark Twain

I daresay not much has changed since the time Mark Twain walked the earth. News stories can be biased, important facts can (accidentally or not) be omitted, you may only get to see one side of a story. Often it also depends very much on where you live what the prevailing opinion is and what your firsts thoughts about a topic may be. So how do you get your facts right?

Can you remember what you did before Wikipedia? As great of a resource Wikipedia has become, good topics often have to undergo a ripening process before enough contributions have been made to cover a topic thoroughly enough. New topics have to be started by someone and this person or entity may not be entirely free of bias. However, the references on the bottom usually give you a good feel about how thoroughly and unbiased the topic is presented.

Another great source is the Stuff You Should Know podcast. Chuck and Josh do a really great job to explain topics from the ACLU over Filibusters, to whether lethal injection is humane as objectively as possible. When you like movies and references to the Simpsons, like me, then you’ll probably enjoy their podcast, which covers all kinds of topics.

However, probably the most thorough collection of in depth nonpartisan and unbiased information is provided by ProCon.org. Here your advantage is that you immediately see the pro and con on each topic, which helps you understand that the opposing opinions are based on.

“The constant barrage of inaccurate, misleading, and biased news and information prevents many people from making informed decisions about important social issues.” ProCon.org

A few examples of question they cover are Is Obesity a Disease, Should Animals Be Used for Scientific or Commercial Testing? or Should Any Vaccines Be Required for Children?, and many more. Those are the questions where you always meet people with strong opinions for either direction.

I think it is important be able to evaluate important questions, especially those who concern your personal live, in an objective, thorough fashion to make decisions that don’t leave you wondering in the future why you made them.

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This is Quick Tip no 36