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On making and understanding statements - To prevent misinformation

Madhava - Sat, 25 Sep 2004 16:04:47 +0530
We obviously need to discuss some fundamental issues on presenting and understanding statements here. This needs to be done to prevent the spreading of misinformation and to prevent ourselves from being misinformed. Please read the following with care and attention and try to assimilate the concepts before writing anything definitive in public.

Do not make definite statements unless you have solid factual information

Factual information means first-hand evidence of a fact. For example, in the case of making statements of a given mood of bhajana, you would have to have (1) either engaged in such bhajana under someone's guidance, or interviewed such persons, and/or (2) studied related literature beyond the occasional glance at one text without knowing its broader context.

If you have your bases covered, as given above, you can make definitive statements on the subject matter. Even then, if that is not known by your audience, it is a good habit to demonstrate why you might have factual information on the matter to give a basis for your statement.

Short of that, you will need to indicate your uncertainty with phrases such as "I don't know", "I wonder if", "I've heard", "I assume" and so forth. Otherwise, you run the risk of having your uninformed statement taken as factual, and possibly even repeated by others as a fact, thus spreading the misinformation or at best the lucky guess.

Therefore, know your responsibility when writing in public, and word your statements carefully. Assuming does not put you in a position of being able to make a factual statement. As they say, "If you assume, you make an ass out of U and me."

Read statements carefully to ascertain whether they are factual

You, as a reader who will quite possibly repeat what he has heard to others, also have a responsibility. You have a responsibility over understanding the content you are reading. For example, if a person starts a sentence with "I assume", you are not at liberty to treat that as a factual statement, as a presentation, as a conviction or as anything of the sort. You must treat it as an assumption, an unverified supposition.

Even if someone goes on to make a definitive statement, it is your responsibility to verify that the person in question is in a position to make such statements. You will need to do your homework to either research the matter yourself or directly contact the person making the statement, asking for his sources.

Whenever in uncertainty, err on the side of caution and treat things as unconfirmed assumptions. False facts are far more harmful than sincere ignorance.