A factoid is an invented ‘fact’ which is repeated and re-tweeted until it starts to be believed as fact. Today, media reports are so mixed with opinion and commentary that little reliance can be placed on their truth. Social media platforms, likewise, float unverified views on whatever the sender feels to be important.

Thinking is based on doubt. It is the act of puzzling. Scientists test theories for accuracy. Philosophers struggle with uncertainty around moral dilemmas. Indeed, doubt is one of the main certainties in any rigorous questioning process.

Hotham 2014 062Is this photo real? Perhaps, perhaps not – but lives don’t depend on the answer. However, when people in positions of power are certain about their opinions, beliefs, strategies, policies or facts, they can make a huge difference to how the rest of the population live their lives. Then the facts really must be checked and the decision making needs to be balanced by a clear consideration of the options.

Groupthink is a means of social control. It persuades and encourages people to go with the flow. History is full of examples of people who took too long to realise what was happening. Alternative voices need to be heard, with opinions discussed and argued. Implicit in the alternatives is that the views must be credible – supported by logical reasoning, peer review and no ‘cherrypicked’ falsehoods or factoids.

That is a healthy challenge to those who are certain that they are right, or chosen, or born to lead, or selected to govern or through good luck have more resources to promote their version of ‘certainty’.

Food for thought!