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Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Good and the Bad from Modern History Project

Modern History Project

"A little learning is a
dangerous thing"
Articles > Reference > GoodAndBad
The GOOD and the BAD
Sorting out the information from the propaganda
-- by: Editor, 2007-05

MHP hypertext version for non-profit educational use only
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A Simple Scheme Most people form their opinions on current events, history, religion, science, etc. without any sort of serious study or analysis. They simply internalize and repeat the dogma of the groups and spokesmen they identify with, which have been provided to them for just that purpose. Serious students, on the other hand, will not be satisfied with this "faith-based" approach and will research material independently from a variety of sources in order to confirm that their worldview is legitimate.
However, a seeker like yourself is immediately faced with a challenge: how can you determine whether or not the information you see is actually valid? I would like to suggest a simple scheme for determining the overall quality of a presentation, and how you can separate the good from the bad.
Regardless of the presentation method (written, spoken, video), any structured information package can be considered as a "document" created by an "author" for a target audience of "readers". The author will present a point of view or "thesis" on some topic, a set of information that supports it, and arguments to persuade the reader to agree with it. Normally, the thesis reflects the author's own worldview.
In this scheme, a "GOOD" document is one that is "Grounded On Objective Data". The author has a reliable record, the thesis is reasonable, the information content is valid and verifiable, and the arguments supporting the thesis are honest and direct. Whether or not the reader agrees with the author's worldview or conclusion does not affect the objective quality of the presentation.
A "BAD" document is one that is "Biased And Deceptive". The author may be a known propagandist or agitator. The thesis may be unreasonable or inflammatory. Some or all of the information presented is obviously either false or not verifiable. The arguments are deceptive or based on emotion rather than reason.

A "SO-SO" document is one with "Suspect Origins or Suspicious Objective" and is a mixed bag of both GOOD and BAD. The author may be unknown. The thesis may be unclear or contradictory. Part of the information seems valid, but part of it is doubtful. The arguments may be vague and convoluted, and the bias hidden. It may be difficult to determine where the document came from, or whether it is factual or fictional.
Easy so far, right? Just stick to the GOOD, throw out the BAD, and don't put too much stock in the SO-SO. Acquire information from several different viewpoints, avoid group dogma, and draw your own conclusions. Even a SO-SO document can still contain a lot of useful information; you just have to be able to separate the GOOD from the BAD.
Not That Easy Unfortunately, it's not quite that easy. Many authors are trained propagandists who are skilled at disguising the BAD as GOOD, the GOOD as BAD (to discredit it), or both GOOD and BAD jumbled together SO-SO simply to cause confusion. They work for media companies, political groups, government agencies and religious movements. Their goal is to manipulate perceptions, current events and belief systems, and also to obscure such manipulations. These propaganda pieces then pass into the historical record where they continue to confound future researchers. So, how to sort it all out?
A good place to start is to check the author's record. What else has he written? Where was it published? Does the author or publisher have a strong political or religious bias? If the author has ever written a BAD piece, or a lot of SO-SO pieces, or seems to be a propaganda artist, that should raise a warning flag.
Then, check the thesis. It may or may not be stated up front; you may have to skim the whole document. Is the thesis obviously inflammatory? Does it single out specific groups or individuals for emotional attack? Quite often, inflammatory documents are generated as bait by propagandists operating in "false front" groups in order to attract, manipulate, discredit, and spy on their opponents.
The next step is to pick out some of the information sources used to support the arguments. Are the references themselves GOOD, BAD or SO-SO? A document based on BAD sources or too many SO-SO sources can't be GOOD. Begin by checking references that seem suspicious and unverified. Sources that don't really exist or "historical quotes" that have already been exposed as frauds are the easiest to spot; these appear frequently in propaganda pieces.
Next look at the arguments themselves. Is the author's manner honest and sincere, or hostile and arrogant? Are the arguments logical, direct, and based on facts, or are they emotional, circular, and vague? A skilled propagandist can seem very sincere with his deceptions, so beware. Your challenge is to be an even more skilled critical reader.
Almost any document, even an outright propaganda piece, usually contains at least some GOOD information. If you are aware of what you are reading (or viewing), it is also possible to observe the techniques of deception used by the propagandists, which you are likely to encounter again.
Historic Documents Historic documents, including "religious scriptures", have their own set of problems. It can be very difficult to verify their origins, how much is factual and how much is legend, which versions or translations are accurate, etc. Scholars spend lifetimes on such issues, and debate each other endlessly. Fortunately, the average student can rely on simpler means.
In checking any historic document, first take a look to see what the scholars have said about it, without getting lost in the details. You can discover the primary points of controversy, and the prevailing opinions.
Next, determine the historic context. What time period was the document written? What wars and political movements were active? What were the author's religious and political affiliations? This can help determine if the document is a propaganda piece, a work of fiction, a fraud from a later date, etc.
Then, look for internal consistency. Never put too much weight on a single passage, especially in a religious document, which may be mistranslated or simply vague. What is the context of that passage? Is it consistent with the rest of the document? Beware of apologists that try to persuade you to accept a viewpoint based on their interpretation of a few words of "scripture".
Current authors rely on historic documents written by others as their backup sources, and BAD references make for BAD documents. An honest author will try to verify that his sources are GOOD, but even a well-intentioned author can make a mistake now and then. One BAD reference is usually not enough to reject an otherwise GOOD document.
Caveat Lector People are the victims of an education/entertainment system designed to discourage independent thought of any kind. They are too eager to accept the group dogma without question, they don't check with other sources, and they don't make the effort to understand the methods of propaganda commonly used. Despite the wealth of valid information now available, there is also a minefield of deception and disinfo blocking access to it.
Here at the Modern History Project, we try to follow these guidelines. We post only those items which appear to be GOOD information, based on our review and comparison with other sources. Because authors are always biased, we post items from several different viewpoints, and visitors are encouraged to read everything. No single source is either complete or perfect.
Best of luck with your quest!
People - Organizations - Events

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