I should probably revise that sentence. In hindsight, it’s pretty ugly.
The overarching question is when we should trust that something somebody says is true. In doing that, we could turn to any number of authorities. Consider the following reasons I might believe something is true:
- I saw it with my own eyes.
- My mom told me and I really trust my mom.
- My pastor says it is in the Bible.
- A guy with a poorly-sourced blog swears it’s true.
- I conducted a statistically significant number of experiments and believe it is proven scientifically.
- I read a journal article by a scientist who conducted a statistically significant number of experiments and believe it is proven scientifically.
- My best friend read an article in the newspaper by a scientist who read a journal article by another scientist who conducted a statistically significant number of experiments and believe it is proven scientifically.
- I read it in The Onion.
- I read a press release.
- A politician told me.
- I read a note somebody wrote and posted on a telephone pole.
- I read it on a bathroom stall.
Excluding the bathroom stall and The Onion, the remainder are decent reasons to believe something. If you see a flyer stapled to a tree advertising a concert, there’s a pretty high chance that that concert is actually happening. After all, not many people make up fake concerts. But once we get into the realm of conflicting statements, we need to figure out which authority to trust. And some of those authorities are a lot better than others.
The mainstream media is one of the best. It has a vested interest in accuracy and has all sorts of internal controls to ensure that nothing goes to press without being carefully checked. On the occasions where the mainstream media gets something partially wrong, it generally retracts it.
Recently, a number of Republicans have been accusing the media of all sorts of liberal conspiracies. They’re doing the same to scientists and scientific journals. That’s concerning.
In science fiction, if somebody tells you that everything you know is a lie and that you need to follow him down the rabbit hole, he’s probably telling the truth. But in the real world? He’s trying to con you.