Monday, August 22, 2022

Rant: Who Can You Trust? Seeking Accurate Information

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

When you read a food or drink article, you'll find a number of alleged "facts" within that article. However,  are those alleged facts the truth, or merely errors which are being offered as "facts?" The same can be said for articles about all other topics as well. We are flooded with information from the media and plenty of it isn't true. 

The key question is always: Who can you trust for accurate information?

That cannot be easily answered. In the end, it's an assessment based on various factors, including a source's motivations, biases, knowledge base, experience, skills, and more. It's a crucial assessment if we want accurate data, if we want correct and honest information. If these matters are important to us, then it is our duty to seek the truth, or at least as close as we can get to the truth. And that is a sentiment applicable to so many topics, not just food and drink.

If you want information about a wine, spirit, or beer, who do you trust? A distributor, a liquor store employee, a professional drink critic, a drink blogger, a friend? Distributors and liquor store staff have a financial motivation to sell wine, which could bias their opinion. Other biases exist which could affect the other potential sources of drink information. Does a blogger only review free samples? Then their opinion might be biased, in order to continue receiving free samples. In addition, all of these sources will have different levels of knowledge about different wines.

If you want information about sustainable seafood, who do you trust? A fisherman, seafood purveyor, marketing company, professional writer, blogger, etc.? Once again, some of those will have a financial motivation and that could taint their opinions. Others may have their own biases which need to be taken into consideration. Sources will also have different knowledge levels, from scientists to informed citizens. I have seen marketers claim a seafood is sustainable, though by examining other evidence, it appears the marketers were not correct.

You'll sometimes hear the phrase "Data is truth," but it's not accurate. Data may or may not be accurate dependent on numerous factors, such as who is collecting the data, how they are collecting it, any definitions that were used, and much more. Plus, one's interpretation of that data may not rise to the level of fact or truth. Statistics can be easily manipulated to prove one's own agenda. Facts can also be cherry picked to do the same. We see this occurring all the time in the media. 

During the course of researching and writing my numerous historical articles, I've found plenty of claims, which were "common knowledge," and accepted by many as the truth, yet in the end, proved not to be true. It was easier for some media sources to repeat this common knowledge rather than do their own detailed research. Even some authoritative sources make errors, and sometimes those errors can be easily discerned through additional research. 

For a recent example, a writer on Facebook alleged that a certain phrase was coined by a specific person during the 1970s. However, it took me about 30 seconds of research to determine that was incorrect, that the phrase extended back to the early 1950s. Why didn't that writer do more accurate research? It certainly wouldn't have taken him much time to find what I had found. Was it a case of lazy journalism?   

The key to discerning an accurate source, to determine what to believe, is to question everything. Question motivations, knowledge levels, biases and more. Don't accept anything at face value. Yes, it takes more time to do this, but it pays off in the end by providing you better and more accurate answers. That questioning can help you trust your source more. For example, the longer you follow a writer, the better you will understand them, and the better you can assess their biases, preferences, and knowledge level. That will lead to a better bond of trust.

Besides questioning everything, you should also consult other resources and not just a single one. The more references you consult, the better your chances of getting accurate information. Don't just consult Wikipedia for your information. Yes, it might take longer to do all of the necessary research, but in the end, you will get closer to the truth, a worthy goal. 

With the information overload found online, please remember that not everything can be trusted. Question everything, and seek as many references as possible. Trust and accuracy comes with time and effort.

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