Source analysis toolbox.

Ever since I started blogging, I've been interested not only in current events, but also in the meta-questions of "How do we know what we know?" In 2005, I posted "How can you determine a source's biases?" in an attempt to list some of the mental processes and checklists I go through to try to decide what to believe and what not to believe. The more recent phenomenon of fake news (in the sense of overtly false and spurious hoax news sites) gave fresh urgency to the problem, as I posted at my LiveJournal. Related posts are collected under my epistemology tag. This post is the latest update to my checklist.

Look in the mirror.
This is really the most important thing when analyzing a source for credibility or bias: knowing your own beliefs and your own possible biases. It's always tempting to accept something uncritically because it fits what we think we already know.

Premises / logic / values.
Know what you differ on: what you believe is a fact, or what consequences follow from it, or whether something is good or bad.

Confirmation bias.
This is our natural tendency to believe things that fit our world-view. I find it helpful to divide between "things I think I know" and "things I know I know". Only verified factual information - things I KNOW that I know - is useful for evaluating the truth or falsity of a new claim.

What kind of overall picture, or "narrative", is the source trying to present?

Before you can determine whether an event is significant or unusual (for example, a crime wave), you need to know what the normal state of affairs is (for example, the average crime rate).

Question sensational reports.
There's a military saying that "nothing is as good or as bad as first reported". Sensational reports do just what the name says - they appeal to our sensations (of fear, hope, disgust, arousal, etc.) and can short-circuit our critical thinking. News stories with especially lurid details should be treated with skepticism.

Internal consistency.
Do all the pieces fit together in a way that makes sense?

External consistency.
Does the report agree with verified facts - things I know I know?

Dialog and dissent.
Does the source welcome opposing views and seek to respond to them?

Awareness of objections.
Does the source attempt to anticipate and refute objections?

By nuance I mean the recognition that a thing can be true in general and still admit of exceptions. For example, it may be true that tall people are generally better basketball players, but it can also be true that some short people may be outstanding players.

Logical fallacies.
There are many mistakes in basic reasoning that can lead us to wrong conclusions.

Red herrings / straw men.
A straw man is an argument that can be easily overcome, but that nobody on the other side actually made; you can "refute" this kind of argument to try to make it look like you refuted your opponent's argument, but you didn't actually respond to the claim they were making. A red herring is any kind of argument that is irrelevant to the main issue, and distracts you from it.

Snarl / purr words.
Some words have negative connotations (snarl words) or positive ones (purr words). Using them can be a way to appeal to people's emotions instead of arguing by reason.

Vague quantifiers.
"Many experts believe ..." Stop! How many is "many"? A majority? Half? Two or three? A claim involving numbers needs to give you specifics, or it tells you nothing.

Misquoting another party is, literally, the oldest trick in the Book - going all the way back to the Serpent in Genesis. It is also easy to selectively or misleadingly quote somebody, to give a false impression of what they said. My rule is, "go by what the person said, not what somebody else SAID they said."

Black propaganda - rhetorical false flag.
This is a particularly nasty trick: creating outrageous or shocking arguments and making them appear to be coming from your opponent, to discredit the opponent.

Discrediting by association - "57 Communists".
This is a little more subtle than the rhetorical false flag. This is the practice of making known false statements, which can be easily disproved, that appear to come from your opponent. The goal is to damage your opponent's credibility. A real-life example was the case of 'National Report' - the granddaddy of fake-news sites - which created all kinds of hoax stories designed to fool conservatives; the conservatives then would be made to look gullible when the stories were shown to be false. (See the "fifty-seven Communists" scene in the film 'The Manchurian Candidate'.)

Bias of intermediaries.
More subtle than the 'straw man' is the practice of pretending to present a neutral forum for debate, but deliberately choosing a more articulate, stronger debater for one side and a weaker debater for the other.

The human voice.
By this I mean an intangible quality that may include a distinctive personality, awareness of ambivalence, self-analysis and self-criticism. This one is not a matter of rigorous logic but of gut instinct: something tells you that the person sounds real or fake.

Hard to win a debate, easy to lose one.
When you're debating an issue, it is very difficult to "win" in the sense that your opponent throws up their hands and says "Oh, you were right and I was wrong" Or even to definitively convince an audience that your position is the correct one. However, it is very very easy to LOSE a debate, simply by saying or doing something that brings discredit to yourself and your cause: getting your facts wrong, making a basic logic error, or losing your cool and cursing or attacking your opponent. Sometimes the most important part of debating is knowing when to stop.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions fires FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

Breitbart, March 16:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, acting on the recommendation of the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), fired former FBI Deputy Director Andrew “Andy” McCabe Friday.
By dismissing McCabe – who was set to retire at the end of the month – before Sunday, Sessions may have jeopardized McCabe’s ability to draw a pension. Speculation Sessions might make this move has stirred since the Department of Justice Inspector General’s report, which is yet to be publically disclosed, was reported to have recommend McCabe be fired over his handling of press disclosures during his investigation of the Clinton Foundation. The OPR, upon reviewing the IG’s report, issued a recommendation to fire McCabe. ...
Statements from Sessions and McCabe at the link.

Jonathan Turley at The Hill (March 17):
Following his termination late Friday night, former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe declared that he was “singled out” after “unrelenting” attacks by President Trump and critics. McCabe’s objections are less than credible, given the virtually unprecedented recommendation of career officials to fire the one-time acting FBI director.

However, McCabe may have rectified his “singled out” status with his long statement criticizing his termination: In the middle of it is a line that could be viewed as incriminating fired FBI director James Comey, not just in leaking sensitive information but also in lying to Congress.

McCabe is accused of misleading investigators about allegedly giving information to a former Wall Street Journal reporter about the investigation of Hillary Clinton and the Clinton family’s charitable foundation. McCabe asserts in his post-firing statement that he not only had authority to “share” that information to the media but did so with the knowledge of “the director.” The FBI director at the time was Comey. ...

The Last Refuge (Conservative Treehouse) has a summary of the big picture (March 18, by Sundance):
The FBI group was participating in a plan to exonerate Hillary Clinton. That same FBI group was simultaneously conducting opposition research on candidate Donald Trump and the larger construct of his campaign team. Those FBI officials were allied by entities outside official government structures. The ‘outside group’ were “contractors”. It is likely one of the contractors was Fusion-GPS or entities in contact with Fusion-GPS. {Go Deep}

The contractors were using FBI intelligence databases to conduct opposition research “searches” on Trump campaign officials. This is where the use of FISA-702(16)(17) “To/From” and “About” queries comes in. ...


Meaning and identity.

Man's search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a "secondary rationalization" of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning.
- Viktor E. Frankl, 'Man's Search for Meaning'

One universal quality of identity is that it gives life a meaning beyond life itself. It offers a connection to the world beyond the self. ... Whatever its form, identity offers a sense of life beyond the physical and material, beyond mere personal existence. It is this sense of a common world that stretches before and beyond the self, of belonging to something greater than the self, that gives strength not only to the community but to the individual as well.
- Natan Sharansky, 'Defending Identity'


Let's blogroll!

Belmont Club: Russia's "new" nukes. 'The announcement of these wunderwaffe plus the revelation that "all of these systems were known to the Barack Obama administration — even the cruise missile" makes it harder to understand why president Obama publicly mocked then presidential candidate Mitt Romney for suggesting that Russia was a threat; or blithely allow Russia to muscle itself into Syria; or stand by and allow the Russian election hacking to proceed unchallenged when all along he knew, or must have known. ...'

Melanie Phillips: Prince William to visit Israel. 'The 70 year boycott has finally ended. Prince William will become the first member of the British royal family to make an official visit to Israel later this year. Kensington Palace has announced that he will visit Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. In all of Israel’s existence, it has never been afforded an official royal visit. Prince Philip and Prince Charles have visited a few times on private occasions, but the royals have never gone there in an official capacity. ...'

Erin Palette becomes a Public Figure. 'After nearly a year of consideration, I have decided to make a Public Figure page on Facebook. I resisted at first, because I felt it would be extra work for limited gain, but I finally gave in when I realized that having a page which was solely for my pro-gun and pro-queer activism would look more professional than one which shared space with my insecurities and nerdy interests. ...'

State power.

The concern over State power is not only about the State's power to affirmatively harm the citizen; it is also about the State's ability to selectively and arbitrarily provide or withhold its protection. The latter, more insidious threat is perhaps the greater concern in today's world.


Neo on Jordan Peterson interview: "Complicated, thoughtful, and strategic."

Veteran blogger Neo-Neocon brings a professional's insights to the recent interview of Jordan Peterson by Cathy Newman.

What Peterson does in that interview isn’t just on the order of what someone like Thomas Sowell (whom I also admire greatly) habitually does in argument, which is to counter the adversary on the cognitive and logical points, and to apply the results of research to the discussion. Peterson certainly does do that, and that’s what most people see when they watch that interview. But he adds certain techniques of the therapist and particularly of the family therapist (although I really don’t know if he’s done any family therapy; Peterson’s a psychologist and used to have a private practice as a therapist, however).

If you’re mostly familiar with the supportive touchy-feely type of therapy, that’s not what I’m talking about here. I can’t give you a crash course in therapeutic techniques or in particular in the way family therapists work, but I can tell you that it’s complicated, thoughtful, and strategic. ...

Go to the link for the whole thing, with the interview video.

'Liberty: God's Gift to Humanity' by Chana Cox

Liberty: God's Gift to Humanity is an introduction to classical liberalism, from its origins in the English Civil War and the Enlightenment to the present day. If, like me, you have an interest in the subject, but your formal education failed to provide you with a a solid grounding in the basics, this is a great place to start. I'm reading it now, and plan to write a full review when I'm done. Highly recommended.

Melanie Phillips: Silence on the scandal targeting Trump.

Melanie Phillips:

If you are in Britain and relying on the BBC and mainstream media for your information, you probably won’t know that a political scandal has been developing in the Washington swamp which has the potential to make Watergate look positively puny by comparison. You probably won’t know that what passes for the accepted wisdom about President Trump may be in the process of being turned on its head.

The reason there’s been no news coverage is that it suggests Trump has been not the instigator but the target of collusion – between the FBI, the Justice Department, the Democratic party and the Russians, first to prevent him from being elected US President and then to lever him out of office.

Last Thursday, some Republicans in Congress who had seen a secret memo, apparently compiled by House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes and fellow Republicans on the panel and which involved the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), were so disturbed by what it contained that they called for it to be made public immediately. They were not at liberty to divulge what it said, merely to express their concerns. But the assumption is that it supposedly contains evidence that the Obama administration made illegal use of FISA warrants to spy on both the Trump campaign and transition teams. ...

Read the rest at the link.


Michael J. Totten on the two Oregons.

My friend Michael J. Totten at City Journal:
Yes, rural Oregonians are more culturally conservative than urban Oregonians. Rural people are more culturally conservative than their urban counterparts everywhere in the world. Oregon, though, is not fighting a cultural civil war. Rather, people on the inland eastern side of the state have an entirely different set of priorities. Rural voters are being micromanaged by Democratic politicians elected in Portland, whose land-use and water-rights policies are inflicting at times devastating economic hardship on the other side of the mountains. Contrary to Frank, they prefer the Republican Party not despite their economic interests but because of them. If the Democrats want to win back these votes in the upcoming midterms, the first thing they need to do is stop kidding themselves. Understanding Oregon is a good place to start.

Oregon is divided geographically, culturally, and politically by the Cascade Mountains, a spectacular range of volcanoes roughly 100 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean that pick up where the Sierra Nevadas leave off, stretching from Lassen County in northern California to the international border with British Columbia. Those mountains are invisible on non-topographical maps. No political boundary takes them into account. The state line between Oregon and Washington mostly follows the Columbia River, and the international border between the United States and Canada follows the 49th parallel. The Cascade Mountains are natural borders, however. Instead of dividing the Pacific Northwest into northern and southern halves along the Columbia River, it might have made more sense to place Portland and Seattle in one state and everything between the Cascades and the Rockies in another. Coming from Portland, I feel more at home in Seattle and even in Vancouver, British Columbia, than I do just an hour east of my house. ...

Read the rest at the link. Michael is well known for his dispatches from Beirut and elsewhere, but he is very knowledgeable about his native Northwest and it's a pleasure to see him address issues close to home. (Michael and I went on a short road trip together back in 2005 and I wrote about it here.)


World Today: 2018-01-01 Monday

Iran: Anti-regime protests continue. Fox:
A leaked report provided to Fox News shows how Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met with political leaders and heads of the country's security forces to discuss how to tamp down on the deadly nationwide protests.

The report covered several meetings up to December 31 and was provided to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) from what it said were high level sources from within the regime.

The meeting notes, which have been translated into English from Farsi, said the unrest has hurt every sector of the country's economy and “threatens the regime’s security. The first step, therefore, is to find a way out of this situation.” ...
Full article with video at the link.

Trump: Pakistan has given us lies and deceit. Arutz Sheva:
U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday threatened to cut off aid to Pakistan due to what he termed as its “deceit” in the fight against terrorism.

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” he tweeted.

Nigeria: Text of Buhari speech. AllAfrica:
Unfortunately, I am saddened to acknowledge that for many this Christmas and New Year holidays have been anything but merry and happy. Instead of showing love, companionship and charity, some of our compatriots chose this period to inflict severe hardship on us all by creating unnecessary fuel scarcity across the country.

The consequence was that not many could travel and the few who did had to pay exorbitant transport fares. This is unacceptable given that NNPC had taken measures to ensure availability at all depots. I am determined to get to the root of this collective blackmail of all Nigerians and ensure that whichever groups are behind this manipulated hardship will be prevented from doing so again.

Such unpatriotism will not divert the Administration from the course we have set ourselves. Our government's watch word and policy thrust is CHANGE. We must change our way of doing things or we will stagnate and be left behind in the race to lift our people out of poverty and into prosperity.

My address to fellow Nigerians this morning is devoted mainly to informing you about the intense efforts this Administration is putting to address our country's huge infrastructural deficit. ...

Kenya: Uhuru Kenyatta to unveil new cabinet. AllAfrica: 'President Uhuru Kenyatta has said he will unveil his new Cabinet in a few weeks.'

Israel: Knesset approves United Jerusalem bill. Arutz Sheva:
64 MKs voted in favor of the bill, 51 voted against and one abstained.

The bill was authored by Jewish Home chairman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett and was submitted by MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Jewish Home).

The law stipulates that a majority of 80 Knesset members will be required to change the status of Jerusalem or for any transfer of territories from the capital within the framework of a future diplomatic agreement. ...

Israel / Jewish world: Yehuda Glick's wife Yaffa Glick passes. Arutz Sheva:
Yaffa Glick, the wife of Likud MK Yehuda Glick, passed away on Monday morning.

Yaffa was hospitalized at Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Medical Center in June after she suffered a massive stroke.

"A few minutes ago, the love of my life returned her soul to her Creator," Yehuda Glick wrote Monday morning on Facebook. "Blessed be the true Judge."