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Credibility and Bias Reasoning Skills Help

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Updated on Sep 28, 2011

Introduction to Credibility and Bias Reasoning Skills

"Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won't come in."

—Alan Alda, American actor (1936–)

Lesson Summary

When we're faced with opinions and tentative truths, it's important to know how much we can trust our sources and how much they know about the subject at hand. This lesson will teach you how to evaluate the credibility of your sources so that you can make well-informed decisions.

You've decided you'd like to see a movie tonight, but you're not sure what to see. You're thinking about catching the latest Steven Spielberg movie, so you decide to find out what others think of it. Your coworker, who goes to the movies at least twice a week, says it's one of the best films he's ever seen, that you'll love it. Your sister, a legal secretary who knows you very well, says she thought it was OK, but she thinks you'll hate it. A review in the Times calls it "dull" and "uninspired," a "real disappointment." The full-page ad in the Times, however, calls it "dazzling," a "true cinematic triumph," and gives it "two thumbs up." So, do you go to see the movie or not?

In this instance, you're faced with many opinions—what various people think about the movie. So whose opinion should you value the most here? How do you make your decision?

What Is Credibility?

When you're faced with a variety of opinions, one of the most important things to consider is the credibility of those giving their opinion. That is, you need to consider whose opinion is the most trustworthy and valid in the particular situation.

Credibility: believability; trustworthiness

Credibility also plays a very important role when dealing with those tentative truths you encountered in the last lesson. Whenever you're offered opinions or facts that you aren't comfortable accepting and aren't able to verify, the credibility of your source is crucial in helping you decide whether or not to accept these opinions or tentative truths.

How to Determine Credibility

Several factors determine the credibility of a source. One is your previous experience with that source. Do you have any reason to doubt the truthfulness or reliability of this source based on past experience?

Next, you need to consider your source's potential for bias as well as level of expertise. But let's return to our opening scenario for a moment. In this situation, we have four different opinions to consider:

  • What your coworker thinks
  • What your sister thinks
  • What the Times review says
  • What the Times ad says

Of the four, which is probably the least credible (least trustworthy) source, and why?

Tip

One way to better understand the difference between fact and opinion is to read the news in your local newspaper and then again in the tabloids. Watch what words are used in each one. See how many facts you can spot in each story. How do they differ?

You should have chosen the Times advertisement as the least credible source. Why? Simply because it is an ad, and no advertisement is going to say anything bad about the product it's trying to sell, is it? Advertisements generally have limited credibility because they're biased.

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