According to the Wolf in the well-known fairytale: “Everybody knows the story of the Three Little Pigs, or at least they think they do. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. Nobody knows the real story, because nobody has ever heard my side of the story”.
In this hilarious, yet revealing retelling of the story by Jon Scieszka, the reader comes across a series of opinions, i.e. interpretations of reality according to a key character in the story, thinly disguised as facts. The culprit tries to exonerate himself through a series of claims that are personal and quite often unsubstantiated.
When a presenter stands before an audience who would he rather be: the wolf or on of the three little pigs? Who can the audience trust and how can they differentiate facts from opinion?
A fact isa specific piece of information that is accurate based on objective proof such as physical evidence, an eyewitness account, or the result of an accepted scientific method. Example: The Story of the Three Little Pigs.
An opinion is an understanding, value judgment, or belief of a piece of information that cannot be proved or disproved. One that rests on insufficient grounds to lead to indisputable certainty. Example: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs as told by A. Wolf.
Levels of Opinion
There are different levels of opinion: e.g. InformedOpinion (example: an editorial about the benefits of living in the city) and Expert Opinion (example: advice given by a doctor to a patient regarding dieting and exercising). These points of view may sound factual, yet they are still opinions.
A Biased Opinion is an expression of an understanding, value judgment, or belief that is often temperamental, personal and, often, arbitrary. It may be the result of incomplete information or a deliberate attempt to persuade and influence. Biased opinions often include words that qualify the statement, such as adjectives: beautiful, miserable, exciting, frightful, etc. (Example: The Exciting but True Story of the Three Little Pigs as told by A. Wolf;. and generaliserssuch as: all, always, everybody, etc. (Example: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs as told by A. Wolf everybody knows).
What is the Difference between Fact and Opinion?
Distinguishing between Fact and Opinion requires critical thinking. Not every statement should be accepted at face value. Here are three questions that may help in the process:
- Can the statement be independently verified or confirmed to be accurate?
- Can the statement be witnessed in practice or operation?
- Can the statement by corroborated by independent sources, such as witness accounts, referenced manuscripts, or documents?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no” then the statement in question is an opinion.
What are the pitfalls?
Not all opinions are to be rejected. However, the speaker’s intention needs to be examined.
- An opinion is inherently subjective, yet what is the extent of the speaker’s knowledge and experience?
- An opinion is created, yet what are the facts that led to the formulation of the specific point of view?
- An opinion interprets reality, yet how reasonable and realistic is this interpretation in a particular situation?
- An opinion may use biased words, yet how strong and powerful are they in their claims?
The presenter under scrutiny
The audience evaluates the Context
Arethe opinions expressedbased on research and sound analysis? Arethe opinions expressed the result of extensive training and knowledge? Arethe opinions expressed intended to inform, advise, motivate or all of the above?
Example: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs as told by A. Wolf- What is the intention of the author?
The audience evaluates the Sources
How can the facts used in the research and the analysis be verified? How recognized are the facts included in the research? How well referenced are they? How current are they?
Example: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs as told by A. Wolf-What facts are mentioned in the story?
The audience evaluates Graphics, Tables and Data
Are the facts presented in raw data form consistent with the conclusions reached? Are the graphics and tables accurate representations of the research carried out? What is the legitimacy and validity of the research that forms the foundation of these opinions?
Example: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs as told by A. Wolf-Has the author crosschecked the facts in the story? What other witnesses are mentioned?
As a rule of thumb, according to Arnold Glasow: “The fewer the facts, the stronger the opinion”.