The Real Correlation is Exposure to Television News
October 24, 2018 7:39 AM   Subscribe

Americans Over 50 Are Worse Than Younger People at Telling Facts from Opinions The Atlantic reports on a Pew Research Center study about Americans' ability to distinguish factual statements (like 'Health care costs per person in the U.S. are the highest in the developed world') from opinions (like 'Democracy is the greatest form of government'). An earlier study from the American Press Institute found that older Americans are also more confident in their ability to distinguish fact from opinion, while an earlier Pew study found that people with high political awareness, those who are very digitally savvy, and those who place high levels of trust in the news media are better able to accurately identify news-related statements as factual or opinion.

While the Pew study does not seek out causes, the Atlantic report attributes the difference to larger changes in media over the last few decades, including the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, the rise of talk radio, and the creation of Fox News (and MSNBC) and websites like Breitbart. Curious about your own ability to distinguish fact from opinion? Pew has a quiz.
posted by box (101 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 
I suppose this means I have three more years of not being part of the problem.
posted by MrGuilt at 7:40 AM on October 24 [12 favorites]


Great, another excuse for age discrimination. Pew pew.
posted by BigBrooklyn at 7:42 AM on October 24 [4 favorites]


Saw this being shared on Twitter a lot last night and invariably the responses were filled with old people saying the study is wrong because they took the test and scored perfectly. Fact vs opinion, meet statistics vs anecdotes.
posted by the turtle's teeth at 7:47 AM on October 24 [59 favorites]


(I made this post after some discussion of this study in the current politics post, starting with this comment and wrapping up at moderator request: "If folks want to really dig in on the Pew fact/opinion quiz, it should probably get its own thread at this point.")
posted by box at 7:49 AM on October 24 [11 favorites]


somewhere i read gullibility rises with age after mid-life, but maybe that was a trick.

I can see how some of the statements can be disputed by being strict or loose with how you read some of the qualifiers ( significant, some, efficiency, health) I got 5/5 and 5/5 but i am not horrified to share a country with people who think a higher minimum wage would factually improve the health of the economy, or that the land Isis lost was or wasn't significant.

The broader point though about media literacy: those raised with only a few, highly curated and regulated news sources some 40 to 60 years ago are now too trusting and not discerning enough about their sources in this bloomin buzzin confussion of blogs, youtube, facebook and propoganda
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 7:53 AM on October 24 [8 favorites]


This is my surprised face.
posted by tclark at 7:54 AM on October 24 [3 favorites]


"It would be wrong for your town to crucify a hobo on the 50 yard line at the halftime show of the high school football game"
posted by thelonius at 7:55 AM on October 24 [4 favorites]


Just because some opinions are more right than others doesn't make them facts.

(That's just my opinion. Or is it?)
posted by Foosnark at 7:57 AM on October 24 [6 favorites]


Nobody with more than an eighth-grade education should get any of these wrong, but that's the demonization and decline of critical thinking skills for you.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:57 AM on October 24 [12 favorites]


In the comments in the other post and in the Atlantic article I never saw a definition of either a factual statement or statement of opinion. From looking at the examples, it appears that factual means testable or verifiable and opinion is the opposite. How was the survey presented? Do people of any age know the difference? And can they state it? This country does not value critical thinking or media literacy. People are not taught the difference. In my opinion this survey is bogus.
posted by njohnson23 at 7:59 AM on October 24 [7 favorites]


I thought the one on Constitutional rights for people in the country illegally was a tough one and arguably could go either way.

As far as I know, that's not explicitly addressed in the Constitution, even if it is fairly settled law at this point.
posted by smelendez at 8:01 AM on October 24 [3 favorites]


From looking at the examples, it appears that factual means testable or verifiable and opinion is the opposite.

Yes, that is exactly what the words "fact" and "opinion" mean.
posted by Uncle Ira at 8:04 AM on October 24 [22 favorites]


The key here is that not ALL older people are worse than ALL younger people at telling fact from opinion. Just want to get that out of the way before some smartass youngster starts to make assumptions about this particular senior citizen.
posted by she's not there at 8:04 AM on October 24 [8 favorites]


I'm curious how the authors understand 'fact' and 'opinion'. Those aren't entirely uncontroversial terms. (Could it be that Olds and Youngs are just biased to understanding those words differently, and that's helping drive the response differences?)

It seems like the authors understand 'fact' to mean 'descriptive and non-normative' and opinion to mean 'normative'. But they're not entirely consistent about this. Whether ISIS's losses were "significant" is arguably normative, and there's arguably a non-normative reading of government being inefficient.
posted by painquale at 8:06 AM on October 24 [18 favorites]


At first I was thinking that the fact that the majority of those surveyed could not classify all of the statements in the PEW study correctly is frankly terrifying.

Though Painquale has a good point -- I am not sure I agree that 'inefficient' can have a descriptive sense, but 'significant losses' for ISIS territory certainly could require some normative understanding of what 'significant' entails.
posted by auggy at 8:13 AM on October 24 [3 favorites]


This tracks pretty well with trends I've noticed in local news: posting a story about a fact, like a spike in flu deaths, and framing it as a poll or open forum. "What do YOU think?" Who cares what I think?? It is what it is!

I understand that examples like the above are done in service of getting clicks, but it also seems like people are being led to believe that their opinions are really important and sacred. Also see: doubling down when someone calls out a shitty opinion, citing "free speech," "I'm entitled to my opinion," etc.
posted by witchen at 8:16 AM on October 24 [17 favorites]


Like all sensible people, I stopped watching television news once Peter Jennings died.

Although I've recently been pushing Vice News Tonight (HBO weeknight news show) on people because it's so unlike any other nightly news program.
posted by hippybear at 8:18 AM on October 24 [3 favorites]


This takes me back to fifth (?) grade in the US, when we were assigned a fact/opinion worksheet that included supposedly "opinion" sentences like "I like eating cheese." I argued then, and would still argue now, that while "cheese is good" is obviously an opinion, the assertion that someone *has* this opinion is fundamentally a statement of fact. Much like "there is a block of cheese in my safe-deposit box," it is conclusively true or false, even if the data happens to be inaccessible to anyone but the speaker. (I was kind of an annoying student...)

I'm glad the Pew survey avoided that particular trap, but I do think there's an issue with referring to issues of constitutional law as factual. Whatever the merits of the fact/opinion distinction in many areas, it's a poor fit for the law. In terms of empirical verification, assertions of law are "correct" to exactly the extent that one can convince the relevant tribunal that they are correct -- which makes those assertions inevitably opinion-like, because whether it is "true" as a matter of law depends on whether the right people agree with you.
posted by shenderson at 8:18 AM on October 24 [21 favorites]


I think the popular distinction is that factual means true, not that the statement can be verified to be either true or false, and opinion means my true view of the world, or what is true for me. Truth or falsehood are primarily subjective criteria for most people.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:19 AM on October 24 [4 favorites]


From looking at the examples, it appears that factual means testable or verifiable and opinion is the opposite.

Yes, that is exactly what the words "fact" and "opinion" mean.


Yes, but perhaps the older respondents did not understand that this is what was being tested for and, instead, thought they were being asked to identify whether the statements were true or false, and not whether they were either untestable statements of opinion or testable but potentially extremely false assertions of fact. Perhaps the younger respondents performed better because they had already done this kind of exercise in academic settings and were familiar already with exactly what was being asked by the study. Just speculating, but that seems like it might be a dynamic at play here (my kids have done this kind of exercise in school, and are, therefore, familiar with it, which is why I have my suspicions).

If you present someone with an obviously false factual assertion and ask them "is this a statement of fact?" there's a good chance they'll answer the question they think you're asking instead of the one you're actually asking, and just tell you that no, it's not a statement of fact because it is not true.
posted by The World Famous at 8:23 AM on October 24 [16 favorites]


I do think there's an issue with referring to issues of constitutional law as factual.

So, basically, you don't believe in foundational law as existing at all.
posted by hippybear at 8:24 AM on October 24 [3 favorites]


That the majority surveyed could not classify the 10 statements in the PEW study is frankly terrifying.

Most of them were majority correct. The only one that dipped below 50% was the 50+ group on whether people in the United States illegally have rights under the constitution.


The Pew quiz does say "a factual statement (whether you think it is accurate or not) or an opinion statement (whether you agree with it or not)?"

It does feel to me that it comes down to people treating "factual statement" as a judgment on whether it's correct. I wonder if a more elaborate introduction would improve results. Like, if before asking the question, I explained "I didn't do it" is a factual statement even if I really did.

I would be inclined to use "factual claim" to avoid the connotations of truth that "factual statement" brings.
posted by RobotHero at 8:25 AM on October 24 [11 favorites]


The way I would put it is that a "factual claim" is something for which a truth value can be definitively assigned, but a "fact" is a factual claim that is actually true. EDIT: on lack of preview, what RobotHero said.
posted by Jpfed at 8:27 AM on October 24 [2 favorites]


That test doesn't seem proof of much to me. I wouldn't doubt older people are worse at determining fact in many cases, but that test looks like it was designed to prove that rather than test the theory. It reads more like a true/false quiz, where the person is being questioned for their opinion than in their ability to differentiate opinion and fact. Is, for example, Government is almost always wasteful and inefficient not able to be classified as fact? With the hedge of "almost always" and the open ended meaning of "wasteful and inefficient", it's hard to imagine any government achieving 100% efficiency and "waste" is pretty much baked in to any group process depending on how you even measure such a thing.

The fact questions appear to target Fox viewers. That group obviously has plenty of problems, but designing the test to prove that as it appears is as much going to differences in media habits between young and old as prove there is any actual difference in each group's ability to determine fact in a more neutral context. That isn't to say that it isn't deeply disturbing that a lot of people buy in to the Obama's not a US citizen thing just that the test is flawed for the conclusions they're drawing.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:27 AM on October 24 [4 favorites]


It would be interesting to test the same questions with fictitious names, e.g. "President Smith was born in the United States" or "The Republic of Freedonia lost a significant portion of its territory in last year's war."
posted by smelendez at 8:30 AM on October 24 [9 favorites]


>> So, basically, you don't believe in foundational law as existing at all.

I think "what the law/constitution really is, is distinct from what the courts decide it is" is obviously not a statement that anyone could ever verify. (Which is not to say that I don't think it's true -- I absolutely do think that; but my arguments are moral and political, not factual.)

To sharpen my point on the constitutional item: I think "the Supreme Court has determined that undocumented immigrants have some rights under the Constitution" would be a much more clearly factual (and correct) statement.
posted by shenderson at 8:32 AM on October 24 [4 favorites]


I'm 35 and have until now thought that the commonly-understood definition of Fact is a statement which is both true and testable. Something that is objectively true, that is. Hence, "true facts" is a tautology. "The moon is made of baking soda" would be, at the most charitable, a hypothesis, not an "untrue fact."

Something can't be a fact in isolation of the context of the world in which it operates: so, for example, we have very few "facts" available to us about recently-discovered exoplanet systems, but as we learn more about them, more of our hypotheses resolve into facts about them. But just creating a series of potentially testable statements about exoplanets isn't creating an "Exoplanet Fact Sheet"

Literally my every interaction with the word Fact as used in the world, for 35 years, matches this description. I've literally never seen "fact" used in place of "hypothesis" like this study seems to have done.
posted by odinsdream at 8:33 AM on October 24 [16 favorites]


The poll was supposed to apply to "news statements," and each question relates to a "fact" or "opinion" that's been heavily politicized ad nauseam by the morass of infotainment and facebook slurry. PEW's methodology "strived to include an equal number that would appeal to the sensitivities of each side of the aisle," [emphasis mine] which to me seems inherently problematic.

"Old people don't know fact from opinion," is a particularly ironic hot take given the stated goal of the survey. I find both the methodology, and the conclusions people seem to be drawing, somewhat questionable. Which (as shenderson points out) is a fact, about my opinion.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:35 AM on October 24 [5 favorites]


Having taken the quiz, i see now how it's entirely constructed of hot-take news-style headlines. An actual academic study of the ability to distinguish fact from opinion wouldn't do this. Instead it would likely ask things that aren't triggers for emotional responses, like "Blue widgets are taller than red widgets"

But that wouldn't result in clicks. Would it.
posted by odinsdream at 8:41 AM on October 24 [11 favorites]


There's also weird things like "Killing people is bad" is an opinion, but "Killing people is morally wrong according to my moral code" is a fact. This stuff isn't strictly speaking obvious.
posted by BungaDunga at 8:42 AM on October 24 [5 favorites]


It seems like the authors understand 'fact' to mean 'descriptive and non-normative' and opinion to mean 'normative'. But they're not entirely consistent about this. Whether ISIS's losses were "significant" is arguably normative, and there's arguably a non-normative reading of government being inefficient.

If ISIS had lost 5% of their territory in 2017, or even if they had lost 25% of their territory but it was unpopulated and nonstrategic territory, then I think there would be a reasonable discussion about whether the losses were "significant" and it could potentially considered a normative statement. What actually happened is that ISIS lost 96% of their territory in 2017, including it's capital, Raqqa, and most populous city, Mosul. (Note: This doesn't mean that ISIS is no longer a threat, or that the region is in good shape; this is simply about who controlled which bits of dirt.)
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:43 AM on October 24 [2 favorites]


It is certainly not uncontroversial that factual means testable.
posted by thelonius at 8:45 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


It isn't, but testable AND true?
posted by odinsdream at 8:47 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


Americans Over 50 Are Worse Than Younger People at Telling Facts from Opinions

Is this headline a statement of fact or opinion? It's a fact that a study was done and in that one particular study the subjects over 50 scored worse, but expanding it to a generalized conclusion is moving well into opinion territory, no?
posted by rocket88 at 8:47 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


I mean that there are claims that are logically of a true/false status, but which we cannot test.
posted by thelonius at 8:48 AM on October 24 [3 favorites]


Yeah, don't even get me started about the abortion "opinion" question, which reads like saying People should only be incarcerated with just cause and ample proof. One can certainly imagine different opinions on the topic, but the answer to the question isn't really opinion in any sense of those "two sides" having equal merit. One "side" of the "opinion" is that women have no rights over their bodies and can suffer injury, discrimination, and death while the other is souls are embodied at conception. Not exactly equal in the "fact" department when it comes to "should".
posted by gusottertrout at 8:49 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


Having taken the quiz, i see now how it's entirely constructed of hot-take news-style headlines. An actual academic study of the ability to distinguish fact from opinion wouldn't do this. Instead it would likely ask things that aren't triggers for emotional responses, like "Blue widgets are taller than red widgets"

Facebook isn’t bombarding boomers with nonemotive disinformation about widget though.
posted by Artw at 8:53 AM on October 24 [8 favorites]


The poll was supposed to apply to "news statements," and each question relates to a "fact" or "opinion" that's been heavily politicized ad nauseam by the morass of infotainment and facebook slurry. PEW's methodology "strived to include an equal number that would appeal to the sensitivities of each side of the aisle," [emphasis mine] which to me seems inherently problematic.

It seems incredibly important to me. Republicans were very good (87%) at identifying "Abortion should be legal" as an opinion, but terrible (49%) at identifying "Immigrants are a very big problem" as an opinion. Democrats were very good (89%) at identifying "Obama was born in the US" as a fact, but not so good (54%) at identifying "Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are the largest portion of the federal budget" as a fact.


Having taken the quiz, i see now how it's entirely constructed of hot-take news-style headlines. An actual academic study of the ability to distinguish fact from opinion wouldn't do this. Instead it would likely ask things that aren't triggers for emotional responses, like "Blue widgets are taller than red widgets"

I think most people would do better at classifying statements like "3 pounds is heavier than 2 pounds" and "I like cake", but the study is titled -- this is at the top of the results of the quiz you just did! -- "Distinguishing Between Factual and Opinion Statements in the News" and I don't think there's a lot of news stories about widgets or who likes cake.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:53 AM on October 24 [13 favorites]


It would be interesting to test the same questions with fictitious names, e.g. "President Smith was born in the United States" or "The Republic of Freedonia lost a significant portion of its territory in last year's war."

This doesn't work, though. If the names are fictitious, how are we supposed to know if the statements about them are factual or opinion? With the President one, I suppose you can assume the answer is "fact," because one of the requirements of the Presidency is US-born citizenship. But the other one? I wouldn't even know how to parse it because where is Freedonia and what war was it fighting?
posted by cooker girl at 8:53 AM on October 24


somewhere i read gullibility rises with age after mid-life, but maybe that was a trick.

Maybe. I don't think judgement and cognition declines enough after 50 to explain the difference, though certainly there are arguments to be made there. I do think that context and the environment someone grew up in has a significant, if not greater influence.
posted by bonehead at 8:53 AM on October 24


Also, can a survey be crafted to skew results in a prefered direction? Can this skew be crafted 'unconsciously'. What age group created/designed this survey?
posted by sammyo at 8:55 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


If ISIS had lost 5% of their territory in 2017, or even if they had lost 25% of their territory but it was unpopulated and nonstrategic territory, then I think there would be a reasonable discussion about whether the losses were "significant" and it could potentially considered a normative statement. What actually happened is that ISIS lost 96% of their territory in 2017,

Normative statements don't have to be ones we can have reasonable discussions about. Even if it's an obviously true and indisputable normative statement, it's still a normative statement.
posted by painquale at 9:03 AM on October 24


About a third of 18- to 49-year-olds (32%) correctly identified all five of the factual statements as factual, compared with two-in-ten

Statistically handwaving, a 12% spread between the groups does not put either in a particularly insightful category.
posted by sammyo at 9:04 AM on October 24 [2 favorites]


This would be a much more interesting survey if respondents were asked to explain why they thought each statement was a fact or an opinion. It seems to me that you could make a valid argument either way on almost every single one of these statements.

E.g., in the statement "ISIS lost a significant portion of its territory", whether this is a fact or an opinion depends on which definition of "significant" you read in that sentence. If you read "significant" to mean "important", it's a statement of opinion. On the other hand, if you think "significant" means "large", in terms of area, then it's a statement of fact.

"Abortion should be legal in most cases." Is this saying that abortion should be legally available and unrestricted because the Supreme Court determined that the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment says that abortion is a legally protected right? Then it's a fact. Is it saying that abortion is morally good? That would be an opinion.

I could go on. My opinion is that this is a really poorly designed survey.
posted by zixyer at 9:10 AM on October 24 [16 favorites]


A fact is not something that in principle can be tested. That is a hypothesis. An opinion can be a hypothesis. A fact is something that has been actually tested, and which yields the same result when the experiment is replicated. In science many things are claimed as fact but the studies can not be replicated. If you dig deep enough, you will hit the skeptic's realization that all knowledge is contingent and that only the most trivial of knowledge can be claimed as undisputed fact. The reason people have trouble distinguishing between fact and opinion is because in complex situations, the difference is actually vague. All knowledge is built on a house of cards, and all we have to make sense of it are a bunch of perpetually contingent heuristics. A desire for facts is a dangerous impulse.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 9:11 AM on October 24 [4 favorites]


Facebook isn’t bombarding boomers with nonemotive disinformation about widget though.

Oh totally, but this survey doesn't really help anything. It's just clickbait that lets people be all "lol the olds can't facts" which is like, the least useful thing to be doing right now. We need to be tackling the ability for our society to actually consume information and use it for good.
posted by odinsdream at 9:14 AM on October 24 [2 favorites]


I can see where qualifiers like "significant" might make a fact difficult to view as such, but people definitely should be able to understand that unquantifiable value judgments like "greatest," and "very big problem" are not factual.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:15 AM on October 24 [2 favorites]


Having taken the quiz, i see now how it's entirely constructed of hot-take news-style headlines. An actual academic study of the ability to distinguish fact from opinion wouldn't do this. Instead it would likely ask things that aren't triggers for emotional responses, like "Blue widgets are taller than red widgets"

But that wouldn't test for what they're testing for.

This wasn't simply "can people tell the difference between factual claims and opinions" but things like "do the political leanings of a person affect their ability to differentiate on hot-button topics" and "do people's opinions on the trustworthiness of media affect that ability" and so on.
posted by Justinian at 9:18 AM on October 24


"climate change is the greatest threat to humanity because it is a very big problem we need to deal with urgently" is a fact. A true statement that's been tested scientifically and widely proven.
posted by odinsdream at 9:19 AM on October 24 [2 favorites]


Though Painquale has a good point -- I am not sure I agree that 'inefficient' can have a descriptive sense, but 'significant losses' for ISIS territory certainly could require some normative understanding of what 'significant' entails.

I was thinking of 'inefficient' in the economic sense. I think it's probably a descriptive fact whether a system is Pareto inefficient, for instance. I bet most economics professors and graduate students would say that it's a fact, not an opinion, that governments are almost always wasteful and inefficient.
posted by painquale at 9:19 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


Is this a problem with U.S. over-50s only, or can the results be replicated in other countries?
posted by praemunire at 9:20 AM on October 24


First, can the study even be replicated in the US?

There is a much richer taxonomy to knowledge than simply facts and opinions, and the totalizing desire to have everything explained by facts is the basis of religion. Most knowledge, even and especially scientific knowledge, can never get beyond the status of postulate. Demanding that postulates be quickly turned into facts is where we get into trouble. A single study or even two are not enough to mint a fact, that status must be earned with time and blood.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 9:33 AM on October 24 [3 favorites]


"climate change is the greatest threat to humanity because it is a very big problem we need to deal with urgently" is a fact. A true statement that's been tested scientifically and widely proven.

Well, first of all, there's "greatest" as in "best" vs. "greatest" as in "largest/most pressing." But then you have to say what you're comparing to. "Greatest" in relation to what? "Very big" is also vague. Big in what way? It's these connotations that make this way of presenting information questionable. "Climate change threatens human survival and will result in global ecological damage" is a statement of fact. Climate change is a "very big problem" for humans, but it may not be such for, like, cockroaches .
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:33 AM on October 24 [5 favorites]


Is the title of this article ("Older People Are Worse Than Young People at Telling Fact from Opinion") proven by the study? Absolutely not. The study only asked ten questions, and they were the same ten for every subject. And all the questions were related to hot-button political issues.

How would performance be on a more neutral set of questions? I'm not just splitting hairs here, because I can't tell if the difference between the two groups is due to the nature of the topics or actual cognitive issues. Would the younger group perform just as poorly on a different set of questions?

It seems a little irresponsible to draw these kinds of conclusions from such a limited study. It doesn't give us any insight into what's causing the differences or why, but it lends itself to a lot of poorly thought-out hot takes on boomers and their older brains.
posted by Edgewise at 9:40 AM on October 24


It is especially when we talk about the future or attempt to make predictions, and call those future statements facts, that we abuse the term. Facts are historical. Any non-trivial statement about the future is non-factual. That doesn't automatically make them opinions, though.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 9:40 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


Re: which to me seems inherently problematic.
vs.
It seems incredibly important to me.

It's both incredibly important, and inherently problematic as formulated/presented. For one thing roughly a third of those surveyed were registered Independents - they aren't mentioned in either the Atlantic article or the Pew summary, nor are there any questions designed specifically for Independents (whatever that would look like). For another, something like 20% of eligible Americans aren't registered to vote at all, with any party. If the poll is meant to be about how Democrats and Republicans interpret fact vs. opinion in the news, say that.

[on preview, I'm mostly just reiterating the point above that this is a poorly-designed survey]

It is certainly not uncontroversial that factual means testable.
No? I take "factual" or "statement of fact" to mean "has been tested."
posted by aspersioncast at 9:41 AM on October 24


so is it a "fact" or "opinion" that "Africa" is a good song
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:41 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


Got 100%, but Nthing the idea that this is really more of a measurement of test taking skills than ability to identify facts and opinions. They really need to hammer on the point that the survey isn't asking if the statements are true or accurate, but rather "are the statements purporting to be factual" or "are the statements assertions of facts (regardless of if they are true or not.)" The overlap between "fact" and "true/correct" in common English is going to confuse the hell out of a lot of people taking this.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 9:43 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


Wow, my opinion of PEW has dropped a significant amount. Which is a factual statement about a personal opinion.

Poorly designed study with at best barely significant results using just bad (if not intentionally obfuscational) statistics to support a blatantly biased opinion piece masquerading as factual reporting.

The 'writers' should be embarrassed.
posted by sammyo at 9:44 AM on October 24 [4 favorites]


so is it a "fact" or "opinion" that "Africa" is a good song

no
posted by thelonius at 9:53 AM on October 24 [8 favorites]


Any non-trivial statement about the future is non-factual.

The sun will come up tomorrow, when I drop this pen I'll land on the floor. Both facts? No just very highly probable. I could be posting this from the International Space Station. Every statement (other than very pure math/logic) is a probability. Hot button topics with non-explicit scientific language are not a strong basis for making broad generalizations of cognitive abilities of broad grouping of not well defined populations.

Bad embarrassing article.
posted by sammyo at 9:55 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


That something has been tested is a statement of fact, but that fact does not include accepting the results of the test as conclusive. Or else, is it a fact that red meat causes cancer, drinking wine makes you live longer, and obesity is caused by eating carbohydrates? To have precise statistical observables, you must carry out the test infinitely many times. Until then, be satisfied with it being a postulate, but don't call it a fact.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 9:55 AM on October 24


I'm over 50 and I no longer think there are any facts at all. I'm not even confident I can tell the doctor where the pain is.
posted by srboisvert at 9:58 AM on October 24 [4 favorites]


lots of positivists here
posted by thelonius at 9:58 AM on October 24 [6 favorites]


> The sun will come up tomorrow, when I drop this pen I'll land on the floor. Both facts?

These are great examples of what I mean by trivial statements. I am willing to accept these as facts, provided the hidden assumptions (such as you not being on the international space station) are satisfied. If you make this statement and you are on the international space station, their ontological status is "you're a jerk!"
posted by I-Write-Essays at 9:59 AM on October 24 [11 favorites]


Huh...this reminds me of a similar study (I think I saw it here) that showed that there's one particular group that is MOST swayed by the claims made in advertising, while simultaneously believing that they are utterly unaffected by advertising (due to their educational background and impeccable critical thinking). That group? Doctors.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:05 AM on October 24 [2 favorites]


It's pretty clear, by the republican/democrat split in the quiz that people think "fact" means true, and "opinion" means false. That's why more republicans think "abortion should be legal" is an opinion, while more democrats think it's a fact.

It also seems that people are responding to the prejudice implicit in a statement. "Social security is the biggest part of the budget" is interpreted by more republicans as a fact and by democrats as an opinion, because democrats think it should be but are sensitive to accusations of bleeding-heart excess, while republicans think it is and shouldn't be.

Whether any of them are correct on any point could be merely a coincidence.
posted by klanawa at 10:24 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


All this quiz tests for is your ability to tell the difference between things written like facts and things written like opinions, for the purpose of this quiz.

I don't actually have any idea what makes up the largest portion of the budget, or if ISIS lost any territory, but I could tell those were written as if they were facts, and I got a perfect score.

It's more a quiz about analyzing sentence construction than it is about telling actual facts from opinions. So yay, I can tell if you are trying to make me think you are stating a fact, but that still doesn't mean I'll know if you are lying or not until I do my own research.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:32 AM on October 24 [7 favorites]


So ... is their distinction between "fact" and "opinion" a fact or an opinion? And if it's an opinion, does that undermine the claim that the things they label as facts really are facts?

More gripes ahead ...

From the methodology:
In other words, respondents were to choose the factual classification if they thought that the statement could be proved or disproved based on factual, objective evidence. They were to choose the opinion classification if they thought that the statement was based on the values and beliefs of the journalist or the source making the statement, and could not definitively be proved or disproved based on factual, objective evidence.
How high a bar is definitive proof supposed to be? Can we really definitively prove with objective evidence that immigrants have rights under the Constitution? Is it perfectly clear what a right is and when a person has one? If we humble citizens think the Constitution gives a person some rights and the Supreme Court disagrees, is it clear that one or the other of us is wrong? Take another one: Can we definitively prove with objective evidence that ISIS lost a significant portion of its territory? Maybe the territory they lost is not significant. Under what measurement are we understanding "significance" here? Is the claim simply that they lost some proportion greater than a specific threshold? What threshold? That's 40% of their "fact" testing material, and I'm not even trying hard.

More substantially: The study runs together two distinctions going back to antiquity. The first is a distinction between knowledge and opinion. The second is a distinction between facts and values. Take the first distinction. What is the difference between those things we know and those things we merely believe (our opinions)? You might think that this tracks pretty closely with the study's distinction between fact and opinion. But there are crucial differences. If someone says to me, "We're all reincarnated after we die," I take that person to be making a (false) factual claim. I also take that person to be expressing an opinion. Not because she is making a value judgment but because the claim is not substantiated. It's not justified. Compare this to a person who defends the claim that abortion should be legal in most cases by arguing for a normative moral theory, e.g. some version of consequentialism, and then laying out evidence that making abortion legal in most cases would be the right thing to do under that moral theory. The survey would count that as an opinion, since it makes a value judgment. But in this case, I want to say that the person has a justified belief, not a mere opinion. (Maybe the claim is also true, in which case I want to say that my imagined person knows as well.)

Fact versus value is trickier. For one thing, it's not obvious that there is any bright-line distinction between the two. The claim that Democracy is the greatest form of government counts as an opinion for them, I presume, because "greatest" is supposed to express a value. Does it? Maybe. I suppose it depends on how we define "greatest." But if it does, it is surely a kind of ethically thick term. It expresses a value along with some descriptive content, as terms like "cruel" or "generous." Now compare with the claim that ISIS lost a significant portion of its territory. How should we understand "significant" here? It seems to me that that term is also value-laden. Even if all we mean is that ISIS lost more than some threshold percentage of its territory, we'll have to make a value judgment about where to set the threshold. But it's not clear that a threshold is even the right way to understand what makes some territory "significant." If a country loses its capital, it has lost a significant portion of its territory, even if the proportion of land area lost is minuscule. And what about people who think that there are moral facts? Plausibly, "It's wrong to hit a baby with a baseball bat for one's own amusement," is a fact. I assume the survey writers would classify it as an opinion.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 10:32 AM on October 24 [8 favorites]


A definition is neither a fact nor an opinion. It is an axiom, which is a category distinct from either.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 10:37 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


And proof is not a thing that exists objectively in some platonic world. Proof is an action done to people. The standard of proof is the person you are trying to prove it to, and requires both people to be arguing in good faith with a spirit of cooperation.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 10:43 AM on October 24


As an aside, I was interested in this "backfire effect" study. As usual, the researchers seem to embrace the fallacy of the middle, and assume that there's any symmetry at all between left and right so-called extremism in American politics.

They don't seem to have considered the possibility that Democrats, being better informed in general, would have to have become more wrong to be radicalized any further, while republicans are under no such constraint. (I'm not asserting that my premise here is true, but... let's be real.)
posted by klanawa at 10:43 AM on October 24


As usual, the researchers seem to embrace the fallacy of the middle, and assume that there's any symmetry at all between left and right so-called extremism in American politics.

Upholding the fiction of Centrism's validity/popularity is like, The Pew Center's whole jam. That's just my opinion, though.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 10:56 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


They don't seem to have considered the possibility that Democrats, being better informed in general, would have to have become more wrong to be radicalized any further, while republicans are under no such constraint.

Radicalized in what direction though? Cause I can certainly see an argument that more information (about, say, the financial system, social phenomena, empirical outcomes of policy decisions) could definitely push Liberals further Left.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 11:00 AM on October 24


I started out as a centrist, and still mostly consider myself one, but precisely that information is what I cite for pushing me further left.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 11:07 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


their ontological status is "you're a jerk!"

Ok, torn between fact or opinion on this one, but sorry was not going after you at all but the idea that there is any clarity about the dividing lines this article is attempting to make. Vastly more than happy to be publicly labeled a jerk if there was any chance for a visit to the ISS.
posted by sammyo at 11:07 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


In science we have "data" and "models" (also known as "theories".) Models can be wrong, whereas data, properly taken, are the "truth" to which models must conform (though data always comes with noise and error bars!)

This is sort of like the distinction between fact and opinion, with data as "fact" and models as "opinion."

But in this analogy it is opinions which are testable, and facts simply ARE, though we may know them imperfectly.

This fits with how I think most newspapers actually classify stories as "fact" (here is a series of events which happened in a particular time and place described as a accurately as possible) vs "opinion" or "analysis" (here is a pattern which fits some of the events going on around us, and explains what may happen if this pattern continues...)

Models can predict the outcomes of future experiments, whereas data just tells you about the specific circumstances it was taken in.

But in science, we have this third category of "laws." Once there is a LOT of data fitting a specific model and no other models... once the model has made a large number of testable predictions which have come true, once a few generations of scientists have spent some effort trying to falsify the model without succcess... we stop calling it a "model" and call it a "law" and treat it as "truth" even though it is a whole curve and not a single data point.

And if intro physics students in their lab class get data which seems to falsify Newton's laws, some data points which don't fall on the curve, we actually assume they took the data wrong rather than that Newton's laws are wrong. (Trust me, this happens all the time.)

It seems to me that there is some analogous process by which a narrative explanation for events can be considered "factual" even though it is not just a raw accounting of " this happened, and then this happened."

Surely there are some narratives about history which we consider factual even though they are complex enough that we might label them "opinion" or "analysis" if we read them in a contemporary newspaper?

Fact or opinion? The civil war was primarily fought over the issue of slavery.

Fact or opinion? Hitler had genocidal intentions.

Fact or opinion? Trickle down economics doesn't work.

Fact or opinion (theory or data?) Humans are causing climate change.

There have been times in when each of these were in dispute and were legitimately disputable. But it seems like, looking back at ALL the individual data points, that, it seems impossible to deny that they fit these larger patterns and that no other explanation really fits as well. I would want to classify these as "facts" even though they are not individual data points, but patterns. Though I wish we had a differnt word, a word that meant a narrative or explanation which is almost certainly true, given all the evidence. But which is nevertheless still the kind of statement that needs to be SUPPORTED by evidence, rather than BEING a piece of evidence.

All of this to say, I think opinions can in some cases eventually be so well supported that we ought to treat them as true, and that it's maybe fair for people to call opinions they think are well supported "facts" even if they are really more like models than data points. But I wish we had another word.
posted by OnceUponATime at 11:10 AM on October 24 [7 favorites]


> But I wish we had another word.

I think "Principle" is a good one.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 11:17 AM on October 24


I've never found myself at such odds with what appears to be the general consensus in a beanplating thread like this one. I see a lot of points in here that would make sense in an academic-ish conversation about the nature of truth and facts but it seemed to me this quiz was designed to test one's ability to distinguish between politically-motivated headlines or statements masquerading as "just reporting news" -- something we have been observing and complaining about ever since infotainment became the norm in television news media -- and headlines or statements that actually are attempting to communicate the news. I don't think people are getting confused because they aren't rigorously, philosophically certain that the sun will come up tomorrow.
posted by treepour at 11:18 AM on October 24 [3 favorites]


people with high political awareness, those who are very digitally savvy, and those who place high levels of trust in the news media are better able to accurately identify news-related statements as factual or opinion.

Hmm. One of these things is not like the other...

I haven't taken the quiz, but it's counterintuitive to me that those who place high levels of trust in the American news media - "trust in those who do the reporting", "have a lot of trust in the information from national news organizations" - are better able to accurately identify news-related statements as factual or opinion. It seems to me that placing a high level of trust in the journalists and news organizations - trust, in what sense? to present facts accurately? thoroughly? without bias? three very different criteria - would tend to make you more susceptible to getting facts and opinions muddled, even if you could do the basic exercise of separating intended factual statements from non-factual ones. The lack of skepticism or hard critical lens is concerning to me. (Of course, the opposite end of this - blanket distrust of all major news, coupled with blanket trust of highly manipulative opinion content from political talk radio and extremely biased non-journalistic outlets, etc. - leads to the fake news phenomenon most of us are familiar with by now).

Part of the problem I could see is with the way this entire thing is conceived - the trickiest part of journalists and news organizations is not in the statements themselves, but in the choice of which information to include and which information to elide, and in what ways that information is presented. You can manipulate a readership into two completely different points of view by presenting factual statements in a different order, with different paragraph stops etc. to change around the emphasis of those statements, dramatically shifting the scope of the facts you present, focusing on individual or human interest facts as a way of suggesting universality, and dropping facts that are messy or inconvenient to a journalistic angle or bias. None of these seem like they would be covered in a determination of whether a statement is "something that’s capable of being proved or disproved by objective evidence".

There's something in the way that very smart, politically savvy, "news junkie" sorts can be susceptible to the problem of taking in a selected presentation of facts in an article and coming to conclusions based on them without thinking reflectively on which of those facts are relevant, which important information is left out, what the readership of the publication is and the publication's way of writing for them and presenting certain things to them, etc. Some try to get around this by reading news from multiple trusted outlets, but the entire spectrum of major American news outlets encapsulates a very narrow range of concerns and perspectives. I almost would say that I wouldn't trust any American to really have a solid perspective on facts and opinions unless they're reading semi-widely from international perspectives and outlets, not just American ones, although even that gets you only a fraction of the way there.

Not sure if I have a coherent thought here, just throwing out some concerns. "Fake news" is a problem, but so is arming yourself with an array of facts that your trusted outlets have given you that taken individually are objectively provable/true/demonstrable/whatever, but altogether present a picture that leads you to emotion-based, class-based, etc. conclusive opinions that you're so certain stem directly from the facts that they may as well be facts. And there's nothing wrong with forming opinions from a set of facts - the problem is when you're convinced your side, whichever your side may be, has a monopoly on the facts. And that's where this whole "high level of trust" thing presents a problem. We don't need more trust in news outlets to combat fake news - we need skepticism informed by a high level of critical thinking. Unfortunately, that's not an easy thing to teach or encourage, and the entire popular internet as it stands now is more or less designed to circumvent critical thinking by readjusting your neural pathways and narrowing your critical lens and presented information to only the things you and your friends care about and a priori agree with.
posted by naju at 11:19 AM on October 24 [2 favorites]


This thread caused me to sit down and try to write up a list of possible precisifications of 'opinion'. (Dictionary definitions are terrible. They're just as ambiguous, if not more so.) I thought I might as well post my list here.

I'm ignoring legal uses of the term, as well as uses where 'opinion' just straightforwardly means 'belief' (as in: "It is my professional opinion that..."). Also, there are two types of entity that 'opinion' might refer to: a statement, or a mental state that has a statement as its content. They've gotta be defined separately.

You can get pretty different judgments about whether statements like "I like ice cream", "Ice cream is good", or "Murder is wrong" are opinions or not depending on which of the following definitions you're relying on.

===

An opinion (statement) is characteristically:

(1) normative, value-laden
(2) an expression of idiosyncratic personal preference or personal standing
(3) that which we can have reasonable and educated disagreement about
(4) not truth-apt or not determinately true or false
(5) untestable or unverifiable*
(6) some combination of the above

An opinion (mental state) is characteristically:

(A) A belief that has an opinion-statement as its content (choose an account of opinion-statements from the above list)
(B) A false belief
(C) A belief held for bad reasons
(D) A mental state formed for some non-epistemic reason, such as an article of faith, hope, or an expression of political affiliation**
(E) Some combination of the above

===

* I'm not sure I buy this as a good reading of the word 'opinion', but it's here to placate the verificationists in this thread.
** This is Daniel Dennett's account of opinions.
posted by painquale at 11:27 AM on October 24 [4 favorites]


> it seemed to me this quiz was designed to test one's ability to distinguish between politically-motivated headlines or statements masquerading as "just reporting news"

It is possible to lie with either facts or opinions. The people insisting on dividing the world into facts and opinions, and ruthlessly excluding the middle, are themselves trying to use that framing to manipulate people. This article is itself a politically-motivated statement masquerading as "just reporting news." It's very meta!

The purpose of the academic discussion of ontology is to show how their fallacious division of the world into fact and opinion is counterproductive to teaching people to detect such manipulation.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 11:28 AM on October 24 [2 favorites]


lots of positivists here

More in the social constructionist camp myself, FWIW. I just like consistent use of terms.

posted by aspersioncast at 11:48 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]


"what the law/constitution really is, is distinct from what the courts decide it is"

I would separate this out...

1. A law "is" literally text on a page
2. That text is composed of sentences and words
3. People discuss and have disagreements about what those sentences and words mean... this is legal interpretation, which is composed of a set of rules and often informed by various principles, including - reading transcripts of the lawmakers debating proposed laws; reading official explanations of the scope and meaning of the legally-binding text; dictionary definitions; interpretive constructions of sentences according to various rules; etc.
4. In order to apply the law, a court or multiple courts will listen to interpretations and choose one (or create its own interpretation) that becomes legally binding in a jurisdiction, unless it is overruled by a higher court or replaced. There are often splits and disagreements between courts or within a single court, leading to jurisdictional and other splits in the law
5. Those court-held interpretations are often themselves ambiguous, inconsistent, contradictory, etc., leading lower courts to try to interpret them for meaning in order to apply them to cases
6. etc.

So I see nothing but opinion and interpretation in the entirety of law, more or less. Usually muddled, nonsensical, and poorly handled. (Thanks, law school!)
posted by naju at 11:54 AM on October 24 [4 favorites]


It's interesting to read the comments here and see people commenting frequently on whether something is or is not a "fact," as opposed to whether it is a "factual statement," which is a key distinction in the survey in question. Blurring that distinction is the very "error" that over-50 folks are being accused of making at a higher frequency than younger folks.
posted by The World Famous at 12:40 PM on October 24 [12 favorites]


I'm a bit confused by the complaints in this thread. I was able to answer all of them correctly and only struggled with the minimum wage statement after it became more clear what the quiz was actually asking you to answer. If there is a value proposition in the statement, its an opinion, its about the phrasing not the content.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:13 PM on October 24 [3 favorites]


I occasionally watch local news (when I've watched the last hour of prime time and there's a good guest on one of the late night shows and I'm too lazy to turn the TV off in between). The local news in Peoria was not awesome, it loved fire and crime, but there's only so much fire and crime in a metro of 300,000 people so they'd usually cover the Peoria city council and school board and county board, and the other towns in the area when something notable happened, and have video snippets of speeches and votes and so on. When they were debating (an execrably terrible idea for) a city fee on natural gas usage, that was covered on the local news and pretty much everyone knew what it was, who was for an against it, and had opinions. (Also watching local news in Peoria was fun because it's such a small town that you know 75% of the politicians, anchors, man-on-the-street commenters, crime victims, and criminals, and you spend a lot of the newscast texting your friends going "I saw you on the NEWWWWWWS, your tie is STUUUUUUPID!" or "OMG did you see Dan got picked up for patronizing a prostitute? They had his perp walk on the news! Good thing his wife already divorced him, geez.")

Now that I'm in Chicago, I watch the local news, and it is NOTHING BUT CRIME. Sometimes particularly bad car accidents. A few minutes of weather, several minutes of sports which somehow manages to include high school sports coverage because obviously that's important, but they basically NEVER cover the Chicago city council, or the Cook County board, let alone any of the suburbs. Sometimes you'll get a read report from the anchor that they voted on this or that tax, but there's no coverage in the runup, there's no footage of the vote, there's no pro/con. And they only cover "sexy" local government stuff -- so a tax on soda, yes; the much more important story of incredible corruption in the county assessor's office that affected literally everyone's property tax rates and made national news for its racism, no. That takes too long to explain, whereas "soda tax" is easy. A suburb passes a random gun control law that has no effect under state law, yes; a suburb makes terrible zoning decisions that will affect the quality of life for tens of thousands of people for decades, nope.

TV news was not a great way to get news in Peoria (paper and local radio were better, and we had a great blogging community), but you actually did get coverage of local politics and government and local issues and debates that mattered. In Chicago, it's literally just true crime theater with feel-good bumpers about weather and sports. How is this even called news? Like, yes, it's really sad that someone committed arson in a suburb an hour away from me, but this is not actually relevant to my life, whereas the county board matters to LITERALLY MILLIONS OF PEOPLE. None of it is news, it's just voyeurism. And people turn it on and say they're "watching the news" and think they're getting the news by watching it and HOLY SHIT, that's really bad. Way worse than I realized.

And it really chaps my hide that they can cover high school sports EVERY WEEK but not suburban government EVER.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:29 PM on October 24 [13 favorites]


This study sucks and the reporting on it sucks, for all the reasons people wrote here.

Even if it were done better, in general, I'm not big on going to great lengths to answer the question "which age/sex/race is stupider". There already exist plenty of negative stereotypes about old people without manufacturing new ones.
posted by value of information at 1:41 PM on October 24 [4 favorites]


I guess what interests me and which slightly rehabilitates the survey is just to notice that if you were to categorize the 10 questions into 2 or 3 categories, the factual-opinion model is effectively the reasonable answer. You can use "neutral" labels, Type I versus Type II statements. The idea that at least there exists some useful taxonomy for all statements, independent of their truth status or subject matter, that's interesting to explore.

On the other hand, if I were to really critique them I would point out the Kafka-esque logic of how a factual statement vs opinion dichotomy is one that benefits media conglomerates and the political ideologies they try to sow and maintain.
posted by polymodus at 2:12 PM on October 24


I'm a bit confused by the complaints in this thread. I was able to answer all of them correctly and only struggled with the minimum wage statement after it became more clear what the quiz was actually asking you to answer. If there is a value proposition in the statement, its an opinion, its about the phrasing not the content.

The complaints are primarily about the design of the test, and through that then discussion of different ways of talking about fact, opinion, and the rest. Getting the answers "right" by answering to the test isn't necessarily a mark of good test design. The test purposefully chose loaded statements to see if people would view them as factual or not. The statements seem mostly chosen to draw out Fox news viewers. Saying that it's just testing to see if people understand what a factual statement is in that construct is playing games with the legitimacy of the study. If the purpose of the test were only to see if people could discern between something stated as fact and something stated as opinion, then using current news items would be unnecessary and a distraction from that purpose. Value neutral statements or even statements with made up nouns would work much better for study of just that element. Putting it in the way they did intentionally challenges certain widespread claims made on Fox News.

Asking, for example, whether President Obama was born in the United States is something that Fox tried to undermine by frequent suggestion he wasn't, so the fact is obscured for those viewers by a counter claim suggesting the fact may not be true. The test taker is then confronted with a statement they don't hold as "true" even as it is phrased as a fact in the test. If the test held the statement President Obama was not born in the United States, then the phrasing would still be as a factual statement but the truth factor would be reversed so that the difficulty in answering would be on the other side, which was more the younger test takers. All the statements were of a similar sort made to cause some difficulty in the tension between statement of fact and truth and had all been reversed the difficulty would be apparent to those who already accepted the truth value they hold.

The claim that the test was to just measure factual statements then is either a lie or the test is so severely flawed that its useless for its claimed purpose other than as a push test to get the results they wanted to find. The opinions aren't much better given absent context and where the truth/fact information can be read in a variety of ways depending on what one takes as a basis of the statement and now it is phrased.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:21 PM on October 24 [2 favorites]


Some of these "facts" really are opinions. "Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid make up the largest portion of the federal budget." First of all, why group these three together into one "portion"? What are the other "portions"? Second, what is "the federal budget", and is Social Security part of it? According to ssa.gov:
Starting in 1969 (due to action by the Johnson Administration in 1968) the transactions to the Trust Fund were included in what is known as the "unified budget." This means that every function of the federal government is included in a single budget. This is sometimes described by saying that the Social Security Trust Funds are "on-budget." This budget treatment of the Social Security Trust Fund continued until 1990 when the Trust Funds were again taken "off-budget."
Even "health care costs per person in the U.S. are the highest in the developed world." There are a number of reasonable interpretations of "health care costs per person." Although all of them are almost certainly the highest in the U.S.

People don't like being condescended to. This kind of paternalistic "fact-checking" that distills complex economic and political realities into true/false statements on a par with something like "Barack Obama was born in the U.S." is the kind of thing that leads to distrust of experts.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 3:05 PM on October 24 [3 favorites]


The old gag applies:
10 years ago: Don't trust ANYTHING you read on the internet!
Now: Freedom Eagle dot Facebook says Hillary invented AIDS to kill conservatives!
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:40 PM on October 24 [3 favorites]


the Supreme Court has determined that undocumented immigrants have some rights under the Constitution

Because the Supreme Court is the entity that defines what the Constitution means, you don't actually have to explicate it that way. You can just use the aforementioned shorthand IMHO ;)
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:20 PM on October 24


On a related note, WhiteHouse.gov has a "fact sheet" titled Congressional Democrats Want to Take Money from Hardworking Americans to Fund Failed Socialist Policies
posted by cheshyre at 5:00 PM on October 24 [2 favorites]


Because the Supreme Court is the entity that defines what the Constitution means, you don't actually have to explicate it that way. You can just use the aforementioned shorthand IMHO ;)

You can't just use that shorthand and leave it at that without further explication. Or you can, but it's really sloppy and unprofessional, to the point where I wouldn't consider the journalist/publication reliable.

The statement in question - "Immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally have some rights under the Constitution."

First, the Supreme Court isn't the only body that defines what the Constitution means. Lower federal courts do as well. So it's unclear who or which body is performing the interpretation of the Constitution in the sentence. Second, that construction is used all the time by advocacy groups and attorneys to argue their interpretation of the Constitution - that illegal immigrants have some rights under the Constitution, and that a suit could be brought under the Fourteenth Amendment, for example (whether that suit succeeds or not is another question). Third, there's the question of what the scope of the sentence is - does it mean that illegal immigrants theoretically have some rights under the Constitution according to abstract interpretations thereof, or does it mean that illegal immigrants have some rights in practice under the Constitution via actual laws on the books and actual court rulings on those laws?

An example to drive home that this shit matters -

Arizona bill SB 1070 was a wide-sweeping anti-illegal immigration bill that arguably would have afforded illegal immigrants zero rights. It was about to go into effect as actual law. The day before that was to happen, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on it. Later in the timeline, the Supreme Court ruled it constitutional in part and unconstitutional in part.

If you were an illegal immigrant in Arizona at the time and you were expecting the law to go into effect, you'd read the sentence "Immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally have some rights under the Constitution" and you'd probably mutter some swear words and you'd classify it as either opinion, factually incorrect, or partly correct only for some states, at some times. At the very least, you'd conclude that the sentence writer really didn't get what was going on at all. Because as someone with real skin in the game, you don't care about whether you have theoretical rights under the Constitution, you care about whether you have actual rights under the Constitution. And before the Supreme Court ruled on the law, it was undetermined whether you indeed have "some rights" in any tangible sense. And that was 2010-2012, not decades ago, so still very recent in the scheme of American history.

Just one facet of why this stuff is so complex and why it's important to use your words accurately and with precision. Otherwise it's all just kinda factual-sounding pronouncements floating in air that look a lot like opinions when you squint at them closely enough.
posted by naju at 5:30 PM on October 24 [2 favorites]


It makes a certain sense that if you grew up with the Fairness Doctrine and the news was rigid, limited and status quo, but not explicit lies and propaganda, you might not get how unreliable the news has become. How rare actual news is these days. Younger people did better in this than older people, by a real but not huge margin. I'm a geezer, and I did great on the quiz. The Fairness Doctrine was pretty great.
posted by theora55 at 7:02 PM on October 24 [1 favorite]


The "digital savvy" part was more insulting than fine-lining fact versus opinion, which would have been exposed by theory questions such as human evolution, nature or nurture, and global warming. The only digital savvy people are those who are unknown to the internet.
posted by Brian B. at 9:14 PM on October 24


Naju, I agree that you can be denied rights in practice by states, but that does not mean that you do not have rights under the constitution unless the federal court system rules definitively. A statement that illegal immigrants will always have rights under the constitution would be opinion.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:35 AM on October 25


If they really had wanted to separate "this is true" from "this is a statement presented as a fact that may be true or false, rather than an opinion", they should have asked half the people in each category the reverse of each statement and compared the results. So "Immigrants in the US have no rights under the Constitution" or "Health care costs in the US are the lowest in the developed world". I don't think either of these is true, but they are presented as facts that can be either verified or proved false.

I don't think instructions about how to answer the questions are really good enough in this case. It's quite confusing to a lot of people.
posted by freecellwizard at 6:34 AM on October 25


whether something is or is not a "fact," as opposed to whether it is a "factual statement," which is a key distinction in the survey in question. Blurring that distinction is the very "error" that over-50 folks are being accused of making at a higher frequency than younger folks.

The Atlantic article blurs the hell out of that distinction, but even in the survey, it's quite poorly articulated. The actual questions are poorly composed. That's part of what we're finding fault with.

"Passing the test" given their criteria is trivial for anyone who can parse a sentence, but their criteria, statements, and methodology are flawed.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:28 AM on October 25


The "significant losses" question is especially galling because you can imagine some neoliberal bureaucrat using exactly that style of language to justify their spin.
posted by polymodus at 12:12 PM on October 25


« Older Google auto-corrected this to "YouTube"   |   "My real name is Joe, and I've been living with... Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.