• Martin Gagnon

Do Not Blame the Rain or Milli Vanilli

The holiday rush and family events have got me a little bit behind schedule on my posts but better late than never. That perfect present for my wife can be quite the search and sometimes comes with quite a story. I’m sure many of you have holiday stories.

In news reporting, stories can bring joy or sadness or entertainment. But does one person’s story of a bad experience at say a medical facility prove anything? Can we rightfully claim a medical facility is staffed by subpar doctors based on one person’s story or experience? Author Hector Macdonald says that “at best, stories are individual data points that, in sufficient numbers, constitute a form of evidence for an argument. It is a logical fallacy to extrapolate from a specific case to a general rule.”

This is a critical point for information consumers to understand because fake news creators employ the emotional power of stories (sometimes true, sometimes not) to change mindsets and beliefs. Here is an example. A fake news creator who wants to advocate for tighter immigration policies may take one negative story involving an immigrant right at the beginning of the piece (emotional hook) and then make a generalization. Often they omit key information.

Another example I saw recently was involving vaccinations. A mother whose infant had died shortly after having a vaccination claimed that the vaccination had killed her infant. The anti-vaccination group which reported the mother’s version of events failed to mention in the article that the medical examiner determined the cause of death was SIDS. The mother admitted she had the infant sleep with her but still swore it was the vaccination. I’m sure that was easier than dealing with possible feelings of guilt.

So, remember that correlation does not always equal causation. For example, if people lose more jacket buttons in a rainstorm that does not mean that rainstorms cause people to lose buttons. So remember stories are not ironclad proof of facts but potential proof of facts.


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