Fact vs. Fiction

Fact vs Fiction,Integrated Behavioral Health Psychological Services, Kalamazoo, MI

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As parents we teach our children life skills like say “please” and “thank you,” drive a car, wash dishes, make a bed and clean the bathroom. Parents are children’s first teachers. 

At different ages, children are ready for different life skills.  For example, toddlers are taught to hold hands in a parking lot, they are taught not to run out into the street.  School age children learn that letters make words, words make sentences and these tell us a story.  Words are one of the ways people learn information from books and from other people.  School age children can be taught to microwave foods, make a pb&j, ask questions, ride a bike, put on seat belts.  In school they learn math, reading, playing nicely, respect and responsibility.  Teenagers learn how to cook pasta, clean the bathroom, change sheets, drive a car, and are reminded often to speak nicely.  

One life skill continually taught throughout development is learning the difference between facts and opinions.  A fact is something that is based on verifiable information:  

  1. Teachers do not live at school.
  2. Everybody poops.
  3. People eat food to give them energy, make strong bodies and to grow.  
  4. The earth is about 80% water.
  5. People need oxygen to live, plants need carbon dioxide to live.
  6. The earth is warming.

How would we verify this information?  

1.   Ask people who are experts (teachers, physicians, dieticians, science teachers).

2.  Check evidence-based sites on the Internet (Wikipedia, WebMD, Mayo Clinic, CDC).  This does not include Instagram, TikTok or FaceBook!

3. Ask yourself “Is this believable?” It is believable if there is an explanation that is based in facts, too.  

3. Were assumptions made?  Often the difference between facts and opinions are that assumptions were made.  

An opinion is not based on verifiable facts:

  1. Pizza is the best food. 
  2. Brussel sprouts smell badly.
  3. I believe in UFOs.  I believe other life forms are out there.

Often opinions use words like “believe,” “probably,” “perhaps,” “usually,” and qualifiers like “ugly,” “pretty,” “evil,” “good,” “bad,” “safe,” “dangerous”? 

Let’s take the statement “The earth is warming.”  There are scientists who provide evidence that the earth is warming, such as, reduced arctic ice. Other scientists suggest that there are multiple year patterns that cancel out the temperature highs and lows. 

Deciding if “The earth is warming.” is a fact or opinion depends on additional evidence in favor and opposed to the statement.  If a statement cannot be disputed, maybe it is an opinion not a fact.  Sometimes something is presented as a fact but is not a fact; these can be tricky. Come to the dinner table with a list of facts and opinions.  Ask the children to decide which are facts and which are opinions(watch out for false facts).

Watermelon is sweet.

Soccer is the best sport.

Boys are smarter than girls.

You can take driver’s training at 14 years, 9 months.

I can read.

Ferrets don’t make good pets.

Cheese is made from butter.

Electronic games teach things.

The Internet was created by hackers.

Sheryl Lozowski-Sullivan, MPH, PhD.

Printed in the Good News paper, July 2021

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