Distinguishing Between Fact and Opinion

According to a recent survey by Pew Research, Americans aren’t very good at distinguishing between a statement of fact and a statement of opinion:

A new Pew Research Center survey of 5,035 U.S. adults examines a basic step in that process: whether members of the public can 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.

The findings from the survey, conducted between Feb. 22 and March 8, 2018, reveal that even this basic task presents a challenge. The main portion of the study, which measured the public’s ability to distinguish between five factual statements and five opinion statements, found that a majority of Americans correctly identified at least three of the five statements in each set. But this result is only a little better than random guesses. Far fewer Americans got all five correct, and roughly a quarter got most or all wrong.

What respondents thought were facts and which were opinions also tended to break along the lines of confirmation bias. Both Democrats and Republicans are more likely to think something is a fact if it supports an opinion they already hold. The more politically aware an individual, the more “digitally savvy”, and the more interested in the news, the better able that individual to distinguish between fact and opinion. The relationship between digital savviness and the ability to distinguish between a statement of fact and an opinion held even when controlling for education.

I think it’s a reasonable hypothesis that both politics and education are failing us.

3 comments… add one
  • Andy Link

    I think this essay explains at least part of it quite well:


    By disposition and training, I tend much more toward the de-coupling side.

  • Roy Lofquist Link

    The New York Times motto is “All the news that’s fit to print”. They omit the implied “in our opinion”.

    The search for reality is a lonesome road.

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