About
Facts & Opinions
Has anyone ever said you were wrong for liking certain clothes or music? Or that a policy from the other political party will be bad for everyone? Or that other people’s religions are false?

People confuse facts and opinions often, especially when arguing. This seems like it should be easy since it’s one of the first critical thinking skills children learn in school, and yet most adults still struggle with it.

Sometimes the confusion has critical consequences. Debates on politics go nowhere and nothing gets done. People wage war and kill each other over their religious views. On a more personal level it may tear families apart. For example, a couple did not like their adult daughter’s purple hair. They kept pressuring her to go back to a “natural” color, until the daughter simply stopped visiting because of all their nagging. They could not understand why she was being so “stubborn” and why she could not see they were “right”.

Definitions

FACT  is a statement that you can objectively prove true, like:
“Broccoli is a vegetable.”

FALSE  is a statement that you can objectively prove false, like:
“Broccoli is a tree.”

OPINION  is a statement that may be different for each person, like: “Broccoli is delicious.” It is subjective and open to interpretation, so there is no way to prove it, which means it is never “right” or “wrong”, even if most people agree.

It’s perfectly fine to discuss and debate opinions. You can try to persuade someone by supporting your opinion with facts, or by showing how many other people agree with that opinion. The only time it’s a problem is when you think your opinion is a fact.

Many fact/opinion tests are confusing because they want you to call all objective statements a “Fact” even if they might be false. To avoid this confusion, the FactOpy choices are “Fact/False” and “Opinion”, so you don’t need to know if it is true or false, just that it is objective.

Debating

It’s aggravating and a waste of time when people can’t tell the difference between fact an opinion. Here are some things you can say to get a debate back on track:

Confusing Opinion as Fact
“That’s your opinion, not fact.”
“Everyone's entitled to their own opinion.”
“No one is obligated to agree with your opinion.”
“My taste is not open to debate.”
“My feelings are not subject to debate.”

Confusing Fact as Opinion
“The facts are not open to debate.”
“You’re not entitled to your own facts.”
“You can’t pick and choose your own facts.”

Test

The FactOpy Test is a simple exercise to both teach and measure this critical thinking skill. It asks 15 two-choice questions then gives a score. The choices are “Fact/False” and “Opinion”, then it gives an explanation after each answer, so students learn from experience — no studying required (inductive learning).

The test uses a question bank of hundreds of prompts, categorized in four levels of difficulty:

LEVEL 1

Accepted Facts — “Dogs are mammals.”

Obvious Opinions — “Blue is the best color.”

Unpopular Opinions — When people agree with an opinion they are more likely to mistake it as a fact, so it’s easier when it’s a disagreeable opinion: “Broccoli is delicious.”

LEVEL 2

False — Sometimes people think false statements are opinions, so this is slightly harder: “Fish are mammals.”

Surprising Facts — “Dinosaurs evolved into birds.” (See also level 3 Doubted Facts)

Popular Opinions — When most people agree with an opinion they are more likely to mistake it as a fact: “Puppies are cute.”

LEVEL 3

Strong Opinions — Beliefs many people consider unquestionable even though they are subjective: “Whale hunting is unethical.” (See also level 4 Dogmatic Opinions)

Doubted Facts — When people doubt facts they are more likely to mistake them as opinions: “There has never been a confirmed alien UFO sighting.” (See also level 4 Controversial Facts)

Trick Phrases — Opinions masked as facts: “It’s a fact that social media is harmful.” Or facts masked as opinions: “In my opinion we have the highest test scores.”

LEVEL 4

Dogmatic Opinions — A more extreme degree of Strong Opinions that trigger people’s beliefs: “God exists.”

Controversial Facts — A more extreme degree of Doubted Facts that trigger people’s beliefs: “Vaping is safer than smoking.”

Facts about Opinions — “Most people surveyed said burgers taste better than hotdogs.” While people are expressing their opinion, the sentence is about how they responded to the survey, which is factual.

Contextual Facts — Phrases that are often subjective, but in context are arguably objective: “Algebra is harder than geometry.” Usually “harder” is subjective, but algebra is objectively more advanced than geometry.


Some statements are too ambiguous, so they are excluded, like “I like broccoli.” — I am expressing my opinion, but it is a fact that I like broccoli. Also predictions, promises, and speculation are excluded, like “Global temperatures will continue to rise.” — This will be objectively provable later but at present it’s an expert opinion.

The test does not ask you to identify which category above, just whether it is Fact/False or Opinion.

The test asks the student’s birth year so that it can compare them within their age group. Also it will not show prompts about hot-button issues and politics to anyone under 14.

I periodically conduct an item analysis of responses to see which prompts are easier or harder. This makes the test scores more accurate.

Score

The test score is from 10 to 50, or 0 if guessing. This is based on an algorithm, not a strict percent.

0Guessing randomly
10-19  Learning Level 1
20-29  Learning Level 2
30-39  Learning Level 3
40-49  Learning Level 4
50Perfect Score

Elementary students should reach 25+ (level 2 competency). Middle school students through adults should reach 35+ (level 3 competency). Leaders should reach 45+ (level 4 competency).

The test picks random questions. It uses an algorithm to adjust the level up or down based for each person. Self-practice tests have only 15 questions, which is a small sample, so the score may vary up or down each time they retake it; this element of chance actually makes it more game-like and compelling. But as a teacher you can assign a test with more questions to get a more reliable score.

The score and feedback is somewhat like a game to encourage students to keep practicing. They can take the test repeatedly to increase their skill and score.

Be Reasonable

The goal of this critical thinking skill is to help people know what is debatable and what is not, to focus on solving problems instead of endless bickering.

Refusal to accept a fact does not make it an opinion “different for each person and open to interpretation”. The real criteria is whether it is objectively provable or not.

Also words like “better”, “safer”, “healthier”, “popular”, etc. must be interpreted in context as whether they are objective. For example, a “better” song cannot be measured in terms of artistry, but a “better” medicine can be measured in terms of effectiveness. If one medicine is more effective with less/no side effects, it is factually better, but if it has different or worse side effects, then it’s an opinion whether it’s worth the trade off.

If there is more than one way to measure or interpret something, you must decide whether reasonable researchers would agree. Technically “reasonable” is subjective, so some people might take this to the extreme that nothing is objective unless it is can be physically measured or counted. But such a strict interpretation does not help people solve problems. Instead it lets anyone reject almost any objective truth by challenging the definition of every word. So to be practical we must accept reasonable as a standard.

Critical Thinking

This app is part of the Critical Thinking Project for education reform. My other app teaches logical Fallacies, with more apps coming later. See: