College students tend to wax enthusiastic about lessons they pick up in class. Curiously, this very admirable trait, a thirst for knowledge, has a downside to it. When one learns at a rate best described as "alarming," which college students often must do, little time exists to sit and sift through all that new material carefully. And this burdensome task would mandate yet more study time, which luxury few students can afford.
This means that, for very practical reasons, they will tend to accept readily sermons that echo from academic pulpits. Consumers of media information have nearly same problem -- a large flow of information thrust at them, and little time to sort through facts with their attending hype and spin. Election years only magnify this problem, and political candidates can grind axes with best of them. When a scandal breaks out, media blitz can sometimes blind even more critical viewers with their ensuing data-storm. So we have done some of extra homework for all these groups to help them make best of this unhappy situation. Here, we offer a clear-headed set of rules to disperse fog quickly, bringing daylight to topic at hand.
As a first step in learning to adopt a cautiously critical posture, we would like to introduce to our readers rule, "take careful notes and develop a long memory by referring back to them now and again." Spinmeisters count on fact -- a most unhappy truth -- that most people do not remember what sales script said that they fed to masses last week. This way, when they change story next month, you can call them on it. If it's a political speech in question, "Tivo" it, so you can play it back when later when spin proponents deny that their guy ever said it in first place.
Second, isolate parts of speech, lecture, or what-have-you, that seem to form main points of argument. Often this or that advocate of -- let us arbitrarily pick one, say, "scientology," will not state all main points of his argument explicitly, but will only imply them. Make implied parts explicit yourself by asking, "what assumption(s), does this depend upon that he has not stated openly?" Then write them down. For instance, if one were to argue, "We had to attack his country because guy is a tyrant," then note that this assumes -- unless otherwise qualified -- that we must attack all countries where tyrants rule. Given today's political climate, this would not promote a very promising course of action. So stated, we would have to attack almost everyone, starting with I.R.S.
So remember to make a list of important claims in question -- whether speaker or writer has stated, implied, or simply assumed them.
Third, "Always examine a claim by itself first."
This provides a fast and easy way to prevent reckless professors, for instance, from hoodwinking students into bogus philosophies (as is their custom). For instance, consider popular claim, "There are no moral absolutes." This would mean that claims about morality necessarily have exceptions. Evaluating this claim by its own words, however, quickly reveals that it provides to us an example of a moral absolute. It allows no exception, while speaking to topic of morality.
Ironically, then, claim instances an example of just what it denies. The claim cannot be true on ITS OWN terms. Such claims would play roles of felon AND whistleblower all at once. The philosophy department has named these propositions, "Self-referential absurdities." They represent a form of logical or propositional suicide, since they affirm by example, and yet forbid by principle, very same thing. This is like man who marches back and forth all day; and when you finally see his picket sign, you find it reads, "Down With Protesting." Look for these and you will find more than you imagine might suffuse popular chatter.
Fourth, compare and contrast these claims, assumed statements, and implied assertions with one another, asking, "Are these logically consistent with each other, or do they get along like Larry, Moe and Curly when ladder-swinging begins, and paintbrushes start to fly?" Sometimes speakers will utter logically incompatible sayings within a very short span. So you will need to learn to identify them to note when this happens. Here, you will have located spin, exaggeration, unwarranted claims, or even outright lies. You might even get two-for-one.
For instance, when U.S. invaded Iraq, it did so against voice of U.N. inspectors, who wanted more time. This shows that U.S. (or at least current administration) believes it proper to ignore whatever authority U.N. might have when it deems it necessary. Yet when Iraq defied very same U.N. authority (Saddam, as we say, "dissed" U.N. inspectors) Bush administration claimed that this provided grounds to invade Iraq. The "Okay for us, but not for them" trick is called fallacy of self-exception. One commits this error in reasoning when he lays down a rule for everyone or every argument, and then arbitrarily excuses himself (or his position) from following, or being subject to, same rule.