10 Strategies from Massimo Polidoro

In a special lunch presentation at CSICon, Massimo Polidoro gave a very practical talk on how to process extraordinary claims one comes across in the news media and elsewhere.

He gave 10 guidelines for news consumers, and I’ll put them all here, but I have to say that it doesn’t at all do justice to the character of Massimo Polidoro and his ridiculously charming presentation style. Of course he’s got jokes, and he interspersed references to Young Frankenstein into his powerpoint, but there’s also a quality to Polidoro’s manner that immediately puts an audience at ease and makes you want to hear the next thing he says.

Look, it could be the accent. I’m not the most worldly person, but come on. Anyhow, here’s Polidoro’s 10 strategies for the news consumer dealing with reports of the inexplicable:

1. Make sure the mystery actually exists.
(You rarely get a reaction of gratitude when these errors are pointed out.)

2. Check the reliability of the source.

3. Go back to the original sources.
(News can be distorted unintentionally through misunderstandings, short cuts taken, and the like. He recommends you compare multiple versions of same story.)

4. Do not make assumptions before you have all the facts.
(You cannot rely on news reports, as they are often compressed and incomplete.)

5. Reproduce the original conditions.

6. Whenever you can, check the facts for yourself.

7. Ask experts for advice.

8. Learn to distinguish between facts and fantasies.
(“The plural of anecdote is not evidence.”)

9. Take witnesses with a grain of salt.

10. Apply occam’s razor.

And there you have it! And we’re all a little smarter now.