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Fake news, fact, fiction or opinion?

by Dr Lee Siew Peng

There was a major upheaval in my household last week. My son, looking quite distressed, decided that he can’t be a Christian any more. He is questioning my faith in God (as portrayed in the Bible).

How could anyone be certain that the Bible is not all ‘fake news’? Why/How, for example, would/could a benevolent God punish sinners?

It’s my fault. I taught this young man to “question everything”. It’s not good enough to know the answers. You can get the answers from published sources. The difference between a student and a scholar is that the scholar asks questions. “Analyze. Evaluate,” I said.

He’s now questioning my faith just as I questioned my parents’ faith in gods whom I had to appease with joss-sticks twice a day. Fair play, my son. Fair play.

The debate on whether to legislate on disseminating deliberate misinformation on- or offline should come down to this: how do we teach our young – and ourselves – to distinguish truth from falsehood, fact from interpretation.

When my son first saw a smoker puffing away he went, “Look, Daddy, steam.”

He understood ‘steam’ (from when water is boiled), and ‘no smoke without fire’. This man was clearly not on fire. Ipso facto, it cannot be smoke.

His conclusion? If it looks like steam, it must be steam.

How do we teach a child that puffs of cigarette smoke is not the same as clouds of steam, or indeed that a dog is not a cat?

We show them both, tease out the commonalities and differences, and then only will they be able to tell if the next animal they encounter is either a cat, a dog, or (God forbid – if God exists!) a tiger.

The key to identifying fake news is for us to be free to question everything – why is someone making certain assertions, what have they to gain (click bait?), what might they be hiding (and why?), how do we tell whose side they are on, is it an irrefutable fact or justifiable opinion based on solid evidence – and then only draw our own conclusions.

Why have I never clicked on so-called ‘surveys’ (or ‘personality tests’) on Facebook and elsewhere? (It has been claimed that these have been used to capture information about our political inclinations.) Because I was trained at good old NUS to question the validity of such ‘surveys’.

Only when we have ample practice could we say for certain whether someone is letting off steam or if it’s merely a puff of smoke.

How could anyone defend his faith if he does not first question it? Do we dare let our children ‘question everything’, grow up?