Weasel Words

A key strategy for identifying ‘fake’ or misleading ‘news’ is to look for weasel words. I put fake and news into quotation marks because weasel word writing is common in the most prestigious news sources, especially in the op-ed columns.

Wikipedia has a good list of weasel phrases to watch out for.

Examples
“A growing body of evidence…”[13] (Where is the raw data for your review?)
“People say…” (Which people? How do they know?)
“It has been claimed that…” (By whom, where, when?)
“Critics claim…” (Which critics?)
“Clearly…” (As if the premise is undeniably true)
“It stands to reason that…” (Again, as if the premise is undeniably true—see “Clearly” above)
“Questions have been raised…” (Implies a fatal flaw has been discovered)
“I heard that…” (Who told you? Is the source reliable?)
“There is evidence that…” (What evidence? Is the source reliable?)
“Experience shows that…” (Whose experience? What was the experience? How does it demonstrate this?)
“the person may have…” (And the person may not have.)
“It has been mentioned that…” (Who are these mentioners? Can they be trusted?)
“Popular wisdom has it that…” (Is popular wisdom a test of truth?)
“Commonsense has it/insists that…” (The common sense of whom? Who says so? See “Popular wisdom” above, and “It is known that” below)
“It is known that…” (By whom and by what method is it known?)
“It is recommended that…” (Who is recommending it? Upon what authority?)
“Officially known as…” (By whom, where, when, and who says so?)
“It turns out that…” (How does it turn out?[e 1])
“It was noted that…” (By whom, why, when?)
“Nobody else’s product is better than ours.” (What is the evidence of this?)
“Our product is regarded as…” (Regarded by whom?)
“Award-winning” (What type of award, when was it given and by whom?)
“A recent study at a leading university…” (How recent is your study? At what university?)
“(The phenomenon) came to be seen as…” (by whom?)
“Up to sixty percent…” (so, 59%? 50%? 10%?)
“More than seventy percent…” (How many more? 70.01%? 80%? 90%?)
“The vast majority…” (75%? 85% 99%? How many?)

When writing, be specific. When reading, look for writers who use specific language and avoid generalizations and vague pronouncements.

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