It’s fifth grade. You’re given that little quiz everyone takes before entering a world of commentary and reality: the fact or opinion quiz. After turning in the quiz, you vow to never think about the difference between facts or opinions again because, like any other exam, it’s now a thing of the past. This is how I picture a majority of Americans approaching this quiz. It’s evident in the way that we approach the media, science and, frankly, elections. In case you failed that fact or opinion quiz, here’s a hint for you: this is my opinion.
With the prevalence in support for fear-mongering and misinformation super spreader Donald Trump, the fact or opinion real-world quiz has become a battle of fact “and” opinion rather than “or.” It started with his attack on the press. Although there is validity in critiquing the media, creating a complete distrust of information builds a cynical society rather than an empowered one. Plus, by calling traditionally factually-based sources such as The New York Times and Washington Post “fake news,” Trump urged his supporters to reject anything that disagreed with their ideology, even facts. Although The New York Times and Washington Post may have a left-leaning opinion section, their reporting is consistently factual. This makes his attack against them a real-life failure of a fact or opinion quiz.
Beyond this, with COVID-19, science took its turn in the spotlight. The World Health Organization (WHO) explained that the spread of coronavirus also came with an “infodemic.” This “infodemic,” a battle between mass spread of misinformation and facts, only made it easier to politicize information since there are so many contradicting sources circulating. WHO explains this disinformation creates polarization that can evenly fit into the binary of our two party system.
One of the most difficult things in the way of having a clear division between fact and opinion are borderline statements. These statements are described by the Pew Research Center as vague statements with both factual and opinionated sections within them. These are most commonly seen in sentences that predict the effects of something. Although our two main political parties make it easy to separate opinions into two different sides, we should not be dividing facts. When we fail our real-life fact or opinion quizzes, we risk public health and basic understanding of how the world works. Climate change is another factual scientific event that is getting ignored for further division through politicization. Yale found that communicating how widely agreed upon climate facts are in the scientific community helps decrease the partisanship occurring regarding climate change. Essentially, educating yourself helps you trust facts more. So, besides relying on traditional fact checking, do your own research. Don’t fall for the divide and study up so you can ace our real-life fact or opinion quiz.