The HeadScratcher Post Archive
July  2011
Facts vs. "facts"
       July 2011 The Headscratcher Post Headscratchers LLC    Edition 72

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Facts vs. "facts"

People say a lot of things, often with conviction and authority, representing what they say as Facts. However, many of these "facts" are just opinions, rumors, or worse, complete fantasy! On the other hand, sometimes we hear something that really is a Fact, but we dismiss it because we think it is impossible.

We are bombarded with "facts", from our peers, TV, Newspapers, Advertisers, Mail (both email and snail mail), and the Internet. We put a lot of weight on Facts because, by definition, Facts are true, you can rely on them, it's something you know to be accurate. We use Facts as a component of our decisions; therefore it's imperative that we distinguish the real McCoy Fact from all those other "facts".

One tool to assist in discerning Facts from "facts" is to look for consistency between the statements being made, and consistency with your experience and knowledge, as well as being open to new possibilities.

Here's an entertaining example: On a recent trip to Phoenix, a fellow passenger said it was going to be 115 degrees in Phoenix. This statement was consistent with my experience of Phoenix in the summer and the weather report. Then someone else proclaimed with authority, "They close the airport when it reaches 124 degrees because the tires pop at 125 degrees". I thought for a moment, if the tires popped at 125 degrees, don't you think they would take action at a lot lower temperature for a margin of safety? Wouldn't there be a warning gauge? Don't tires heat up when moving, so wouldn't this be a function of tire temperature, not just outside temperature? There were a lot of inconsistencies in "they close the airport at 124 degrees because tires pop at 125 degrees". Clearly this "fact" was suspect.

Political "facts". Not sure much needs to be said here. Too often we hear the same politician state a "fact", then days, weeks, and/or months later, say something that is contradictory to that "fact". Or how can two members of congress state the "facts", yet these ""facts contradict each other. One of them, or likely both, are distorting things. Many people, politicians included, use "facts" to support a position, but these "facts" are usually only an interpretation, or an opinion, not a Fact.

Impossible Facts: Sometimes we hear a "fact" and disregard it because we think it's impossible. While appropriate to question, consider asking yourself this: If it were possible, would this "fact" be consistent with other things that are said or observed? While your experience might be contrary, is it possible that under certain conditions, the "fact" could be a Fact and that you just haven't had that experience yet? Is there a way to validate or invalidate that Fact?

The Takeaway: Facts ... look for consistency. Don't judge a "fact" on the statement itself, but look beyond the statement. Look for supporting statements or contradictions. Is it consistent with known Facts, your experience and knowledge. Ask how you know this to be true? And, if the "fact" seems to be impossible, ask this question:, "under what conditions could this "fact" be possible, i.e. be a Fact, and do those conditions apply in this situation.

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