Not long ago, the Pew Research Center conducted a relatively simple survey that had some very interesting results, to say the least.
In late February and early March, Pew surveyed just over 5,000 average American adults to determine if they could “recognize news as factual – something that’s capable of being proved or disproved by objective evidence – or as an opinion that reflects the beliefs and values of whoever expressed it.”
For those not familiar with the Pew Research Center, it is (according to the website) a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world.”
Pew gave each of the participants five factual statements, five opinions and two statements that did not fit clearly into either category, but were “borderline” or ambiguous.
They found that the majority of those survey correctly identified at least three of the five statements in each set. However, the researchers said, this result is only a little better than random guesses. Far fewer got all five correct, and roughly a quarter got most or all wrong.
It’s unsettling to think that, for many, the ability to tell fact from opinion is little better than just hazarding a guess.
Interestingly, researchers also found that when someone labels a statement as factual, they overwhelmingly also think it is accurate. Yet those same individuals tended to disagree with factual statements they incorrectly label as opinions. Put more simply, we tend to believe statements with agree with, and label statements we disagree with as opinion.
We see this at The Daily News from time to time as well. Although it’s not frequent, we do on occasion have readers who confuse letters to the editor as news articles. Sometimes it’s just a matter of someone reading something and not remembering where they read it. But letters to the editor should always be read as the opinion of the person writing that letter. The same can be said for sources quoted in news stories. Also, letter writers and news sources will sometimes state things as as “facts” when they’re really an opinion.
There was one factor related to how people consume news that did not have a marked difference on distinguishing fact from opinion (one that will likely come as a surprise to some) — political affiliation.
Both Republicans and Democrats showed a tendency to be influenced by which side of the political aisle a statement appealed to most.
But is it really surprising that we’re more likely to label either factual and opinion statements as factual when they appeal to “our side” of the political aisle? Isn’t it just human nature for people to think a statement is true if it supports or agrees with their existing beliefs?
The question remains: “How can everyone be better as telling fact from opinion?” The answer may actually be more news.
Pew researchers found that those 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 than others to accurately identify news-related statements as factual or opinion.
The best advice, to put it simply, is to read more news and read from more news sources.
If you’re interested in taking the quiz for yourself, you can do so at http://www.pewresearch.org/quiz/news-statements-quiz.
The questions are:
1. Spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid make up the largest portion of the U.S. federal budget.
2. Immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally have some rights under the Constitution.
3. Government is almost always wasteful and inefficient.
4. ISIS lost a significant portion of its territory in Iraq and Syria in 2017.
5. Abortion should be legal in most cases.
6. Democracy is the greatest form of government.
7. President Barack Obama was born in the United States.
8. Increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour is essential for the health of the U.S. economy.
9. Health care costs per person in the U.S. are the highest in the developed world.
10. Immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally are a very big problem for the country today.
Remember, five are factual and five are opinion. We won’t give you the fact vs. opinion answers, but we’d love to see your results.