A Tutorial On Evaluating Information

David Trammel's picture

I found this on a FB group, and thought it was a very good basic tutorial on how to evaluate the quality of information you find now.

"On Intelligence Gathering for the Prepper"

Copyright 2021 Prepping For Beginners (FB Group HERE, its a pretty good one even if you are experienced.)
Copyright 2021 Scott Skowronski

"I'd like to talk about a nearly-hidden, mostly un-talked about cornerstone of prepping once again: The ability to gather and sift information on your own for intelligence of value to you.

As a prepper, you generally should have an inherent mistrust of the information you are offered. A decent rule of thumb (but not always the case) is the more accessible the information is, the more you should be suspicious of it. This is because it takes a significant amount of labor to gather and sift information -- more than most people are inclined to put in. So we rely on "the professionals" to provide our information for us.

The upside of this is, like most other situations where we have "the professionals" doing the job, is that they're better at it. The downside is, like most other situations where we have "the professionals" doing the job, is that we have to trust that they are doing that job to the highest quality available - to our standards. For a prepper, who is at heart a do-it-yourselfer, even when you DO have "a professional" do it, you have a better chance of being able to tell when a job is sloppily or unprofessionally done because of your experience and skill set.

But what is overlooked is most people's inability to see that same lack of standard in information. Because outside of investigations courses or journalism class, gathering information and sifting it, ultimately for presentation (professionally), is something usually relegated to term papers and theses, which are generally a distillation of someone else's concepts and a "fresh new take" on information already available.

Gathering intelligence in real time is different, mostly because you don't have reference materials to back up your data. You can't go to the Encyclopedia Britannica and find out what happened last week. There's a time lapse. And intelligence is all about acquiring TIMELY information, so that you can make decisions WHICH AFFECT YOUR LIFE on that information. Which is why I and most other preppers are deeply insulted when some idiot wannabe coughs up a conspiracy theory, trying to pretend to "fit in". They're fucking trolling and that kind of tinfoil hattery REALLY annoys me. If you can't back your shit up with facts, don't give me bullshit.

But therein lies the rub - how do you GET the facts when they're so fresh they're only being published by the "professional" sources -- sources which ALL have a bias. Yes. All of them. I like to use a process. Let me say straight out front that this process is NOT infallible; it is simply the best I've found, dumbed down to rules of thumb which of course are subject to interpretation -- and the more skilled you become, the less you must rely on "rules of thumb" and replace them with your own judgement.

My process is thus: Three sources. Preferably of opposing or at the very least dissimilar political leanings. This way, I can use a crossover of what I find in all three sources as relatively factual.
Understand that with all of the propaganda and, irritatingly, the coordination of that propaganda by multiple opposing sources, this process has failed me, more often recently. So sometimes we have to look at "alternate sources" -- this is where the wackadoodles and the tinfoil hatters start rejoicing, because they can't fucking tell a good alternate source from a bad one. And they tend to figure that since we're utilizing the same sources, we must be similar in our mental bent.

Not true.

Alternate sources are generally LESS accurate and contain MORE obvious bias than mainstream. However, you can use this to your advantage by again, looking for the crossovers - what data do all sources have in common? Then, once you have GATHERED your data, you must consider it. Note I did not say "analyze"...that comes later. Your consideration should BE those biases. Can you recognize them (be honest with yourself - I don't give a crap whether you're good at this or not, but you will if you misinterpret the data and make a life-changing decision based on bullshit you couldn't see as bullshit) in and out of context?

If you don't see the bias - it just means you either agree with it, or it's too subtle for you to see at this point. I've gone back ten years later and read the same article or story and immediately caught the bias the second time, because of my skills and experiences. DON'T discount your experiences - every bit of experience has value - EVEN the bullshit has value, as you can use it as a comparison. "Hey, this seems like the same sensationalist bullshit I fell for 20 years ago..." THIS is valid consideration.

The trick is learning to sift. To recognize based upon your experiences and the relation to the information being handed to you vs. your reality. Unfortunately, many of us live in a reality of bullshit, insulated from the really awful stuff that's happening all around us, either through inattentiveness or deliberately ignoring it for the sake of happiness. Sometimes it boils down to: You can be informed, or you can be happy. It isn't always that way but more often than not, that's the choice you have to make.

Understand that when people put something down, write it down for others to read, it automatically gains importance in the mind of the reader - this is a psychological "if it wasn't important, why would they write it down?" sort of thing. Which is why certain kinds of written propaganda, no matter how outlandish, seems convincing. Because someone thought enough to write it down. Unfortunately, and this is the part our lizard brains can't take into account, is that "important enough to write it down" is NOT the same as "truth" or "accuracy". Feel free to research the "Big Lie" from Nazi Germany to understand a little more about that kind of propaganda. But that's an extreme example, intended to blatantly show this phenomenon. Modern real life examples can be much more subtle.

Another thing to consider is WHY. Why did this person write this down? This is related to the above. WHAT is this person trying to tell me and WHY are they trying to tell me? WHAT REACTION are they looking for from me? Again, a most blatant example of this would be trolling: Where someone says something outlandish and upsetting in order to evoke a response -- any response. But instead of being manipulated into responding, give consideration as to why that person did what they did.


That's the real question. What's the angle? If you can't see the angle, this source may not be good for you - find another. You MUST be looking for the angle. The bias. What the presenter of this information WANTS OUT OF YOU. Whether it's to keep feeding you bullshit so you eventually believe it, or whether it's to upset you so you make bad decisions, or whether it's to test you to see if you're paying attention -- or any number or combination of infinite reasons. It's up to YOU to look for that angle. Recognize it. And either evaluate the angle or filter it out, depending upon the information you need. ALL information has intelligence value. Some in what is said, some in how it's said, and some in what is NOT said. Like a puzzle with a few pieces missing, sometimes you can tell what information you need by the shapes of the "holes" in the story you've been presented.

Once you have considered the information, THEN analyze it. What does it say? How does it say it? Are there weasel words being used in order to get you to think a certain way? "Killed" has a much different emotional connotation than "murdered." Why were certain words chosen, to elicit a specific EMOTIONAL response from YOU the reader? Analyze the data ruthlessly. Weed out the things that cause you to react strongly, either positively or negatively, and weed out the FACTS. Once you have weeded out the facts, THEN go back and analyze the language -- this will give you insight both into the bias and into the motivation behind the bias, and may help you to evaluate the accuracy of the facts as they have been presented to you.

Cross reference your data.

In computers, a single bit is used as an accuracy indicator, called a "check bit" which creates a "checksum" -- that is, when a byte of data (8 bits) is transmitted and/or read, 7 of those bits are data, and the 8th bit is the "check bit". The checksum is to verify it comes out even. If the 1s and 0s of the other 7 bits come out to an odd number, the check digit is a 1, to make it even. If the 1s and 0s of the other 7 bits come out to an even number, the check digit is a 0, to keep it even. When gathering informational data, YOU are the one looking for the checksum. You are looking for the verification. Do NOT rely on a single source if you don't have to. Make sure your data is solid BEFORE you make a decision.

If you are making life-altering decisions, it is in your best interest to be able to gather and evaluate information - to separate hard facts from the bullshit. Don't get caught up in semantics, or euphemism -- both are methods of deception (not necessarily lying, but definitely deception), and learn to FILTER OUT THE BULLSHIT.

Your life will depend on it. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but at a time when you need information, the only sources are limited, shit, or a nasty combination of limited shit, and you need to make a timely decision. The better your informational skills are, the more likely you are to make a good decision which will help you and your family survive."

I've got a set of three books on my desk.

Just Enough: Lessons in living green from traditional Japan (the Edo Period) by Azby Brown
Mabiki: Infanticide and Population Growth in Eastern Japan, 1660 - 1950 by Fabian Franz Drixler
Peasants, Rebels, & Outcastes: the Underside of Modern Japan by Mikiso Hane

If you read only the first book -- which is a wonderful, beautiful book! -- you'll come away thinking the Edo period was heaven on earth. Azby Brown completely ignores the multiple peasant rebellions (at LEAST one per year), glosses over how peasants were actually treated by higher-ups, and provides two sentences addressing Edo birth control: they used infanticide.

Read the other two books and you'll get a WILDLY different view of Edo Japan.
You need all three.

However, Azby Brown didn't want to have a single, negative thought impinging on his paradise so he omitted the downsides.

David Trammel's picture

Completely agree Teresa, its getting harder and harder for people to recognize their own bias. Social media and entertainment news "create" stories as a way to sell advertising, and the algorithms self select us into echo chambers where we hear opinions that match our own. When that happens its easy to think the preconceptions we have, are the only ones true.

David Trammel's picture

Another problem with vetting the information you come across now, in this hyper-filled swamp of News, is that some of the sources of information are part of groups with agendas other than to inform. For some they are even being used to wage deniable warfare to disrupt and confuse an enemy.

Sometimes I read a story on the Internet which is so "they can't really think that, can they?", that I just shake my head that its even being posted. Maybe that IS the purpose of the story?


From Joohn Choe
(Please note, Choe is going off on a rant about the Rittenhouse trial right now on his FB page, be warned.)

""War" is almost a misnomer for information-space manipulation and supremacy efforts by nation-states, because it's not spatial, and it's not necessarily force-on-force. Sometimes, it's structured like a race - in Russia's case, I speculate, a race to develop what startups call "validated learning". That's what this is.

It's like this: Say you're a Russian Internet troll working with the IRA back in '14. You're operating at a severe disadvantage compared to an activist like me in the U.S. You have to pretend to be somebody you're not, you have to keep up multiple lies, you have a content schedule and a quota to keep up, and worst of all, you have no idea of our culture or our idioms, or how to avoid coming off as obviously fake. A lot of the very early actual Russian trolls that people encountered back in '17 and '16 were like this.

I call it the Shinola problem, as in these people don't know even know what it is, much less that it's a different thing than manure. Solving the Shinola problem is a critical aspect of the "lean startup"-like Russian way of information war that you see in Congress' data on the IRA effort in '16.


The only way you can overcome the Shinola problem is by running experiments, and fairly rigorous ones at that: do my U.S. audiences want this? How about this? If I try this, do I get a predictable result? What do they find valuable out of what I post - will I get more shares and likes if I do this?

These are the same questions that a startup company has to answer - very basic ones about what your value proposition even is, or what your target market expects from you and how they consume your product. Since everything in startup culture has to have a specific, annoying name attached to it that (amusingly) provincial intellectual hipsters outside startup culture emulate and get wrong, the original concept of "validated learning" has been adapted from the original Jack Ries concept to a pluralized sort of catch-all word for anything you figure out about where you screwed up.

But it comes down to a basic lack of knowledge and willingness to start from scratch with experimentation.

The reason why the United States is so behind in the arena of hybrid war and disinformation studies, I'd argue, even though we have vastly better resources, academic institutions, governmental agencies and military operations going in this space, is because we learn fast, but we don't learn all at once.

Learning all at once is what you see Russia doing from '14, when they ran a mysterious set of disinformation operations creating fake disasters inside the United States. Multiple parts of Russia's apparatus of state, from its intelligence agencies to its executive leadership to its diplomatic corps, all took part in a kind of "snap exercise" (as NATO calls it) that taught them how we react to disasters.

Russia's still doing it, right now, in fact. I've been writing about it: they're learning from how NATO and the European Community react to influxes of migrants on their borders as provocations. At stake is the ability to inflict Clausewitzian friction on an adversary in a low-intensity conflict.


Think about what little stunt by Belarus is doing precisely. It doesn't lessen sanctions on Belarus - quite the opposite, in fact, it's probably going to result in more sanctions. It doesn't make Russia or Belarus look good. It doesn't even make money.
What it does make - what it provides - is validated learning on how NATO and the European Community react to novel provocations involving hybrid-war mechanisms of action, like flows of migrants.

Russia is learning how we respond to novel forms of peacetime international provocations short of war. And it involves disinformation, of course; so they're learning how much they can influence our politics during disasters, too. And, annoyingly, we can't cut it off - we can't stop them from learning, or supply them false feedback, without essentially cutting off our (tactical) noses to spite our (strategic) faces.

It's a learning race, not just for individual researchers and agencies, but for entire nation-states, and we're losing, because as a whole, we don't even realize we're in it.

Do we know what would happen if we engineered a flow of migrants into Russia or an adjoining state - say, Turkmenistan? Do we even know how Belarus and Russia are doing it right now? Has anyone tried to discover which specific group of Belarusians and Russians are behind the obviously intentional border provocations, and discover or speculate as to what logic is guiding it?

What happens if there's a disaster in Russia like the Kemorovo school fire in '18 that killed 60 people, over half of them children? Does that open up any opportunities for influence on the Russian political system, or any potentially destabilizing narratives that can be used to diminish Putin's nationalist mythos? I have my guesses about what it means in terms of disinformation distribution.

(https://joohnchoe.medium.com/the-resistance-information...) but that's a country mile from an actual strategic study.

Because the other side knows all of that, and more, about us.

That's why we're losing.

And this entire time, Russia and our adversary states in the influence game have been adapting - that's why proper actual Russian trolls are so hard to find these days, but trolls from countries with low wages and Russian business-interest expansion are so common.

There's ways for us to catch up; I think something like the old and frankly nepotistic system of Vannevar Bush-era (G-Dub's granddad; this is really old history) academic/military cooperation might do it for us. Building an American military innovation institution, starting from academia, is empirically a backable proposition.

Or pervasive, open-source, field-wide collective memory in private intelligence contracting, the way that they adapted to the War on Terror as a business opportunity. Competition in the marketplace working its magic, as it were.

As a basic first step in that, though, I'd argue at least, we have to even understand what the hell is happening to begin with."

David Trammel's picture

Yesterday, 11/21/2021, a SUV drove into a Christmas parade.


Almost immediately speculation erupted over whether this incident was terror related.

One of my Youtube vbloggers I follow used this incident the next day to highlight one red flag about misinformation.


Watch in the early hours of an event when the Media and other well known individuals front run the news and assign intent to an action when there is little or no actual information. Sensational speculation drives clicks and sells advertising. Watch when people assign intent to further the agenda you've found they push. In this case the Media was front running the "terrorist" meme. I bet if we dug some, we'd see front running the Antifa/White Supremacists memes were being used as well. Remember, EVERYONE does this now and is made worse by the echo chamber of social media.

Watch for circler reinforcement. One person will state something as fact, which then gets repeated by other sites. The first site then uses that repeated status as confirmation that their original statement is true. Dig deeper when evaluating information.

In very few incidents, do YOU need to make up your mind immediately.

mountainmoma's picture

" "It's important to remember that the suspect in custody was not driven by the hatred we in the media have stirred up in the country for the past decade," said CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer. "It was simply the unlawful use of violence against civilians.."

Gotta love the satire sites


David Trammel's picture

We all could benefit from a sign that says "The Media Is No One's Friend", on a sticky post next to our monitor. Whether the veneer that they paste on their journalism is Left, Right or Center, their job depends on getting people to click on their site. The content matters less than the headline. If you click on a link, and find the article BS, you've still made them money.

Its telling that FB changed their algorithm to push negative content, even after being warned about the affect on society, because they recognized they made more money if people were angry than if they were informed.

The Powers That Be do not want an informed public. We're a lot less leadable if we can think for ourselves.

In this specific case it does appear the driver was under a lot of stress, coming from a domestic dispute. We've all been very angry behind the wheel and know how distracted that can be. He may well have just driven into the crowd by accident. But accidents don't sell advertising.

mountainmoma's picture

You've got to be kidding.... I recomend to stick with the idea of waiting for judgment rather than putting forward unbelievable theories, which of course is ironic

David Trammel's picture

Are you saying that me saying the driver had just come from a domestic disturbance before the incident was wrong?


Or do you not think that media companies color their reporting to make a profit?

On further reading I don't think it appears to accidental. I will admit I probably should have not said that until more info came out. Just goes to show, even someone who is watching, can fall into the trap of echoing misinformation.