7 Questions to Ask in Evaluating Online Pundits

7 Questions to Ask in Evaluating Online Pundits by KEVIN DEYOUNG  for The Gospel Coalition

One of the best things about the internet is that anyone can state his opinion about anything.

And one of the worst things about the internet is that anyone can state his opinion about anything.

The digital revolution has made knowledge more accessible, the flow of information more diverse, and the ability to make your voice heard easier than ever before.

The same revolution has also made invincible ignorance more sustainable, pervasive crankery more common, and the ability to discern what voices are worth listening to harder than ever before.

There’s no putting the genie back the bottle. Even if more news and punditry is being “curated” these days, it’s still the case than anyone with a strong opinion and the self-discipline (or blinding rage, the case may be) to blog and tweet and post consistently can command a following and wield a level of influence that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. If we are to be wise, then, in both what we read online and also how we read it, we need to stand by the unpopular conclusion that not all opinions are created equal.

In his book The Death of Expertise, Tom Nichols tells the story of an undergraduate student arguing with a renowned astrophysicist who was on campus to give a lecture about missile defense. After seeing that the famous scientist was not going to change his mind after hearing the arguments from a college sophomore, the student finished in a harrumph, “Well, your guess is as good as mine.” At which point the astrophysicist quickly interjected, “No, no, no. My guesses are much, much better than yours” (82–83). Just because someone is confident doesn’t mean he is anywhere close to correct.

So how do we evaluate the cacophony of punditry around us, especially the online variety? Few of us have time to research every author we read, let alone the subject matter on which they are pontificating. In most of life, it serves us well to assume that people are telling us the truth. Without knowledge of the inner workings of a church or school or institution, it can be hard to tell what’s factually accurate and what’s a false allegation. Sifting truth from error in an online world is no easy task.

But there are several common-sense questions we can run through our brains before giving undue credence to the latest and loudest opinions.

1. Does this person inhabit a healthy web of family and friends? Of the questions listed here, this is the hardest to answer. Often, we won’t know anything about the person we are reading online. But at times, we may be able to discern something of a relational pattern, for good or ill. To be sure, even nasty folks can find a friend or two, and sometimes the best people suffer through family drama not of their own making. And yet, as a general rule, if I know someone has a good marriage, a happy home life, a lot of supportive friends at church and at work, and a long track record of strong relationships, I’m more inclined to hear what he has to say, especially on spiritual matters. Conversely, I’m less likely to consider someone an expert on spiritual matters who is surrounded by a train of relational wreckage with himself at the center. We are whole people, and those who are emotionally unhealthy and unstable are not usually the best go-to guides for fair analysis and discernment.

Continue Reading / The Gospel Coalition >>>

Related posts