any message in any medium.
When faced with information claiming
to be factual, employ the SMELL test. First,
consider the source. Who is behind the message? Then, their motivation—is it really
informational, or an attempt to sell something, someone or a point of view? Next,
examine the evidence for any conclusions
drawn. Is that evidence logical Finally, is
anything left out—a missing, but relevant,
fact or necessary context?
Source can be evaluated on three criteria. Construct a mental PIE chart. Is the
source proximate to the information—
gathering it firsthand, or from trustworthy informants? Is the source independent—free of
conflicts of interest? Is the source expert or
experienced in regard to the topic?
Apply the PIE criteria to the information
providers and the sources they quote in their
reports. The higher the PIE quotient, to borrow a metaphor from a former president, the
more trust you should repose in the message.
If the message isn’t transparent enough to
allow you to evaluate its PIE quotient, it may
be a lie.
Motivation matters. If the tone is
unemotional, and the content informative
and carefully attributed to reliable sources,
you can be more trusting than if the purpose
For those who know how to search
and filter it, the explosion of news and
information can be empowering.
WON’T GET FOOLED AGAIN
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 31
is persuasion. Persuaders, such as lawyers,
publicists and stumping politicians, tend to
cherry-pick the information useful to make
their case. They may omit equally relevant
contrary information. Persuasion demands
skepticism. The more you feel urged toward
a particular point of view, the more you
should dig in your heels. Here’s how.
Examine the evidence for each gener-
alization. Does it come from direct observa-
responsible for the other). Suspect simple
solutions. Few, if any, important develop-
ments or issues have a single cause or rem-
edy. Always ask if there are alternate
explanations of the same evidence that are
just as compelling.
Costco member John McManus, a communication professor and longtime journalist, is the
author of Don’t Be Fooled: A Citizen’s Guide
to News and Information in the Digital Age
When flu season
brings high fever,
©McNEIL-PPC, Inc. 2012