When I taught Language Studies at Mohawk College way back when in the early Aughts, grammar was always an important component of Communications courses. I was always careful to include the importance of nuance, connotation, and subtext in those lessons because loaded language, spin, doublespeak, and opinion were real problems and language was not supposed to be the place where you parse you words and lie.
There would always be a lesson about not using doublespeak, for instance. Be clear, direct, and to the point. Do not use the divine passive -- sentences had to have a subject, object, and verb so if there was a decision made that was not favourable to the receiver of a communication, they would know who was responsible as the divine passive implied it was some otherworldly entity ("Management rejected your claim" is direct and gives facts; "Your claim was rejected" is the divine passive suggesting the some nebulous god was behind it).
But there would also be a lesson about the differences between facts and opinions because it wasn't always easy to tell. I would begin with softballs such as "The room is huge" versus the square footage of said room. Then it got to more complex differences between stating the "The woman was angry," versus "The woman pounded her fist on the table and yelled."
The more complex the hierarchy I went, the more objections I would receive: surely, it was a safe bet to say a person who was yelling was angry, they'd tell me.
To which I replied, "You don't know that." The person could be genuinely angry, or she could be a grifter playing a game. You need facts to tell the story for you. The more facts, the easier it was to determine what the best course of action would be.
Opinion was the way to bypass having to dig for facts, and usually, opinion uses faulty logic to blind people from the facts that would refute the opinion's hypothesis.
So that the Pew Centre has a study that says people cannot discern fact from opinion is a no-brainer. Journalism is mostly filler these days and has been peddling opinion as fact for a long time.
But for Pew to jump to the conclusion that this show that people cannot discern so-called "real" journalism from fake news is absurd for the simple reason that journalism has no almost no verified factual statements: just opinion and narrative. You cannot tell apart things that are the same.
And journalism has no core when it comes to understanding the factual.
Take the National Post's silly and sophomoric attempt at playing detective, trying to find patterns of unsolved cold cases that may or may not be linked to accused serial killer Bruce McArthur.
On the surface, it may seem to a lay person to be a solid effort, but on closer inspection, it is riddled with holes with some very big and unfounded assumptions, namely that McArthur was the only game in town.
The Highway of Tears has seen many slaughtered First Nations women over the decades -- all sharing the same pattern, but to assume it is a single killer?
At least forty women, but it would not surprise me if that actual number was double or triple that as this is a very lax and lackadaisical country when it comes to comprehending gravity: only one of these murders/disappearances has actually been solved.
We can have multiple murderers: some serial killers, and some one-time murderers who just happen to pick a victim that fits a pattern.
The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow is essential reading for those who are obsessed with patterns and believe that everything and everyone fits one. Randomness is a far more important factor than patterns, and the Post's amateur sleuthing shows how little they comprehend the significance of it.
The article also suffers from a serious confirmation bias and to explain how deeply ingrained that bias is in Western academic and professional thought, let me go over something I have mentioned previously: the inherent flaw in the FBI's book for criminal profiling The Crime Classification Manual.
I have all three editions, and have read them all cover to cover. There are a lot of real-life case studies, and it is very organized, but it exclusively relies on cases where there was a conviction, making it less than reliable.
You cannot just look at the cases where you have a conviction: you also have to look at unsolved murders, and more importantly, cases where someone was wrongly convicted.
It also is a very good idea to make an assumption that many of those who were convicted were possible wrongly convicted.
Because often, criminal profiling is no no different than fake psychic readings.
The killer was someone who is prone to angry outbursts. How often do we hear that?
And how many people who are prone to angry outbursts never kill anyone?
And those vicious killers who are not prone to angry outbursts but do what they do in order to make sure their targets are dead?
It is a serious problem that the CCM has yet to acknowledge, let alone correct.
Vague, no-brainer statements doesn't make you a detective. There are obvious statements, but often, what seems like a certain pattern is anything but.
Because we are mistaking opinion with fact.
And when professional investigators are prone to make them, so are journalists, and the public because it's not exactly taught in schools. How many of us take critical thinking courses?
Or have their Language Studies professor take it upon herself to sneak it in her grammar lessons?
So for Pew to jump to the conclusion to imply that journalism is somehow superior to filler opinion is just another opinion itself.
Because journalism doesn't discern between fact and opinion.
I created F.R.E.E.D. as a method that does discern between them to report on fact, not opinion or narrative.
Because we need facts that have been more than just verified, but empirically tested.
The National Post has no clue how to do this task -- and neither has any other media outlet.
And it is 2018.
Think about that...