Uncovering the truth behind statistics
I recently read the book unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation, by Brooks Jackson and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, in preparation for an eXtension webinar I am co-teaching on assessing the reliability of online information. This book does a nice job presenting various spin tactics used by advertisers, media, and politicians to tell their stories. Librarians aid in developing students critical thinking skills. This could be a nice textbook for an information literacy course, writing course, or communications course. Here are a few spin tactics used include:
• Deception: False or misleading claims
• FUD factor: fear, uncertainty, doubt (Example: Pop-up virus warning windows to buy a product.)
• A story too good to be true usually is.
• The Dangling Comparative: larger, better, faster
• The Superlative Swindle: smallest, highest
• The Blame Game
• The Glittering Generalities
The authors proceed to outline nine rules to detecting spin. Personally, I liked tips four and eight the most: cross -check primary sources and check everything that matters. These steps could be used in developing rich instruction around visual literacy and critical thinking. Another text that would tie nicely and goes into more in-depth discussions is Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from Media, Politicians, and Activists by Joel Best.