Why do we believe what we believe? How do we decide what is true, and what is important?
· internal consistency (details of the narrative agree with each other)
· external consistency (details of the narrative agree with information previously verified)
· insider details (information available only to an authentic source)
· dialog and dissent (narrative welcomes questions and challenges; fosters better understanding among divergent opinions)
· awareness of objections (narrative recognizes legitimate counter-arguments and seeks to refute them)
· nuance (recognition that a proposition may hold true in general and still admit of exceptions)
· the human voice (an intangible quality that may include a distinctive personality, awareness of ambivalence, self-analysis and self-criticism)
The internet is anarchical, and therefore makes great demands on the individual user in terms of critical thinking skills. How do we know to trust a site? We compare information from multiple sources, listen to different analyses, learn to weed out irrelevant input and compare the picture with what we know from our own previous experience.
With the traditional media, this is all delegated to the editor, publisher, producer, or university. Often we have to do this, because the material is specialized or technical in nature, or because individual contributors don't have the credibility to reliably provide the information we need.
Originally posted 2004.