Fact or Opinion? Do You Know The Difference?
What is a Fact?
A fact is an objective piece of information that can be verified. “Facts are usually expressed by precise numbers or quantities, in weights and measures, and in concrete language. The decisions of Congress, specific technological data, birth records, historical documents, all provide researchers with reliable facts,” (San Luis Obispo County Community College District).
Facts can be verified through reference books like dictionaries, and encyclopedias. Facts can be verified through Congressional records, historical documents, and even newspaper reports. There are a variety of sources available to verify whether or not something is a fact.
It does not matter how many people believe a particular thing. Lots of people believing something does not make it a fact. It simply means a lot of people share a particular opinion, or that a lot of people are poorly informed.
What is an Opinion?
An opinion is a subjective piece of information that cannot be verified. It is a belief that someone holds, usually based on a particular individual’s values and perspectives. Opinions may or may not be based on fact, and often include a strong emotional component.
A writer may express an opinion with what are sometimes referred to as weasel words. She may have done this. It is believed that this happened. She seems to be conscious. He appears to be the perpetrator. The words I have written in italics are the weasel words. They are not concrete. “She seems to be conscious,” is an opinion, but “She is conscious,” is a concrete statement based on fact.
Whose Opinion Matters?
Some people’s opinions have more weight or credibility than other people’s opinions. That is because some people have more knowledge and experience on the subject they are opining about. The opinions of people who are experts or authorities in their respective fields are generally given more weight and considered more reliable and credible than the opinions of people who have little or no verifiable knowledge and experience on the subject of focus.
For example, most people (most means 51% or more, not 100%) give more weight to a statement or opinion on our economy by Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration, or Paul Volcker, Chairman of the Federal Reserve during the Carter and Reagan Administrations, than they do to Billy Ray Cyrus, American Country Music Artist, or Cher, star of music, films, and more. That is because Reich and Volcker have knowledge and direct experience on the subject of the U.S. economy.
Someone who may be successful in the entertainment business probably has limited knowledge, or no knowledge, of how to run an economy the size of the United States. They may be geniuses in the entertainment world, but when it comes to the United States economy, their opinion has no substantive relevance. Just because someone holds a lofty position as a celebrity or a politician does not mean everything they say is accurate and true.
Just because someone is a rock star in the world of science, mathematics, philosophy, or medicine, does not mean they are knowledgeable about investment, history, art, or anything else outside of their specific field of study. Someone may be an expert in a field outside their main field of study as a result of extensive experience in that particular area, but it is still a good idea to always verify their statements before accepting them as fact.
Knowing the Difference Between Fact and Opinion is Essential
Knowing the difference between fact and opinion is essential for good reading comprehension. If a person cannot tell the difference between fact and opinion, they cannot judge whether the information being presented has value and credibility.
Sometimes people will say or write things in a manner to suggest they are presenting facts when they are not. There are a lot of different reasons why people sometimes do this, but it is usually a simple matter to check the validity of their statement and verify if what they have said or written is accurate and true.
I have written a hub explaining how to evaluate the credibility and dependability of websites, writers, television commentators, and others. My hub will help you determine if a source is credible and reliable for using as a reference in research papers, as support for your position in a discussion, or just simply knowing if someone’s statement is truthful and straightforward. You can access my hub on Evaluating Information Sources here.
Examples of Fact and Opinion
Here are some examples of factual statements and expressions of opinion. See if you can tell the difference. The ‘answers’ are given below the list of statements.
1. Stephanie walked to the store yesterday. (Fact or Opinion?)
2. I assume Adam is gay since he’s 45 years old and never been married. (Fact or Opinion?)
3. Yesterday’s high temperature was 98 degrees Fahrenheit. (Fact of Opinion?)
4. I think Joshua probably knew he was going to be promoted several weeks before it actually happened. (Fact or Opinion?)
5. Jennifer is a feminist and everyone knows all feminists hate men. (Fact or Opinion?)
6. Six plus four equals ten. (Fact or Opinion?)
7. No one ever uses algebra once they graduate from college. (Fact or Opinion?)
8. Marianne is a selfish person, because she doesn’t want to have children. (Fact or Opinion?)
Answers: Numbers 1, 3, and 6, are factual statements. All the other statements are opinion.
References for this hub:
Kmartin90. Fact or Opinion. April 4, 2011. You Tube. Online. Internet 18 November, 2011. Available http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROJnQuq1hpc
San Luis Obispo Country Community College District. Academic Support, November 6, 2003. Online. Internet 13 November 2011. Available http://academic.cuesta.edu/acasupp/as/310.HTM
Wikipedia. Robert Reich, November 5, 2011. Online. Internet 13 November 2011. Available http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Reich
Wikipedia. Paul Volcker, November 2, 2011. Online. Internet 13 November 2011. Available http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Volcker