The concept of mass misinformation and false propaganda likely goes back as far as the ability to read and write. Some historians speculate that ancient Egyptian narratives, depicted in hieroglyphics on many monuments are embellished and in some cases inaccurate.
Terms like “Snake Oil Salesman“ has come to be synonymous with any practice intended to deceive the general public. It’s origins date back to the 19th Century in the United States during the Chinese migrations and the building of the Transcontinental Railroads. There was in fact a real product called snake oil but it ultimately became one of the best known examples of false advertising on the American Frontier.
Two centuries earlier, in feudal Japan, the nonconformist samurai Miyamoto Musashi touched on the need to be critical in judgement, analysis and weary of false information. As part of the nine rules laid out in The Book of Five Rings, Musashi states simply to “Learn to judge the quality of each thing“.
In today’s language one would speak of critical analysis, scientific method or a healthy dose of skepticism. The recent US presidential election and subsequent studies like the one discussed in the Wall Street Journal below are potent reminders that the need to judge the quality of things is greater today than ever. Fortunately these are skills that can be taught and cultivated.
Are you practicing critical analysis daily? Or are you getting fooled by the snake oil salesmen?
A study of middle-school to college-age students found most absorb social media news without considering the source. How parents can teach research skills and skepticism.