This article is about 7 ways of critically questioning information that are vital for us making the right decisions.
It is a well known fact, when becoming knowledgeable about something, you are putting the information you are receiving into context; you are giving the Information some meaning.
If you consider the masses and masses of information, indeed misinformation, available nowadays at a click, the question is how can you equip yourself to reach the right decision / decisions.
How do you know the information that is in front of you is the truth? How can you minimize the risk of making the wrong decision? How can you filter down your information sources to the ones you can rely on?
At a time when there has never been as much information available to us, we are all subjected to massively manipulated information. Marketing companies become profitable through their ability to grab your email, catch your preferences and build a profile of you and your family's likes, dislikes and activities in order to directly advertise to you and entice you with products or services that you will have expressed a like for.
Have you ever noticed how you have written something somewhere, only soon after to be inundated with right hand column advertisements on a product that has a connection to your statement?
Generally speaking, we also have tended to reduce the depth of our reading, often only reading the headlines and swiping quickly forward. We have become de-sensitized in the flood, quickly falling into carefully laid out traps that aim to catch our attention and thereby, aim to form our opinions and influence our choices.
Here are 7 simple but critical questions you can use to improve on your gathering of knowledge in the flood of information, that are as valid in your workplace as they are in your private life. Use them in critically questioning information.
Who is the person or company making this statement? How do you know they reliable? What is their reputation? Have they the expertise to make these statements? Are they qualified to make these statements?
What is their hidden agenda? What are the facts they have based their statements on? What is their intention, do you suppose? Are they trying to sell to you, form your opinion, hoping for you to form assumptions that aren't true?
So much is communicated using tone, expression and body language but most of all the choice of words can convey so much.
So, consider how much of the truth in this situation being altered by the words being used?
Conversely, as language is such a key part of communication, how much mis-interpretation is taking place because of a poor choice of language? Someone, somewhere, chose which information was used to make this statement, so what was their intention?
What is being deliberately omitted? Is data missing or altered to cover up facts? Are there influences that are not being recorded? Or indeed, Information taken out of context?
There is an old saying "you cannot compare apples with oranges". Is the data being manipulated? Does the timescale seem appropriate to you?
Remember the situation where the parent always has to ask the child that complains that his friend has hit him, what exactly happened just before his friend hit him.
What is the framework of information behind what you are being told? What is the economic reality at the time this information was gathered? Was there a recession? Was there a boom or a bust period? What are past examples of similar behavior?
What is happening politically? Are there elections?
What about financial contexts such as Inflation rate, monetary devaluations, etc?
What about movements in Society with change in beliefs such as the populist movement?
Environmental with climate change, regulatory or legislation change.
And economically with perhaps newly formed or altered trade agreements, new tax reliefs, etc.
Critically questioning information also needs you to question the person providing you with the information. What is their source? IS their source reliable? What are their credentials? How much bias has been added to the information? What can you do to check out the facts?
Note: Any sites with .org or .edu are are educational and are usually very reliable sources of Information. Government Statistic Offices have a lot of information online that is available to us to fact-check important statements.
Is there a matter of urgency? Are these statements being made after "the horse has bolted" Hindsight always being an easy judge of events. Critically questioning information includes looking at the timing of the statements being made.
At a time when fake news is an everyday matter, terms such as alternative facts float across the News headlines. the grey area between when a lie is not a lie becomes fuzzy.
It is up to each one of us to filter out the bizarre, the untruths, the inaccurate and the heavily manipulated in order to come to the truth. This is done by simply critically questioning information with:
Look at this graph about the percentage of staff in an office consuming coffee, tea and juice per month over months.
Would you agree that the rate of Coffee drinkers has greatly decreased and the amount of juice drinkers greatly increased?
Would you have a problem with the following headline describing this graph?
Juice drinkers massively replace disgusted coffee drinkers!
Now, look at this graph. Do the differences between the consumption of coffee, tea and juice now look that different? Would you still agree with the title?
I have used the exact same data for this second graph in comparison to the first, but this graph shows from 0% to 100% instead of 92% to 100%.
Taking this a little further and still using the exact same data, I included the months January and February as well as June and July to give a better context. Do you still agree with the statement?
Juice drinkers massively replace disgusted coffee drinkers!
So use the vital seven questions I listed above in critically questioning information:
Who gathered this information?
Why did they gather this information?
Where are the missing water drinkers?
And lastly, who, if anybody, determined that the coffee drinkers were disgusted?
I hope you can use these 7 questions to critically question information you may receive in work or in your private life and thereby make the best decisions based on the information you receive.
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