"In propaganda truth pays... It is a complete delusion to think of the brilliant propagandist as being a professional liar. The brilliant propagandist is the man who tells the truth, or that selection of the truth which is requisite for his purpose, and tells it in such a way that the recipient does not think he is receiving any propaganda... [...] The art of propaganda is not telling lies, but rather selecting the truth you require and giving it mixed up with some truths the audience wants to hear."
Richard Crossman, the British Deputy Director of Psychological Warfare Division (PWD) for the
Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) during the Second World War
We are continually subjected to facts, arguments, conclusions, opinions, and beliefs, often in a confusing melange that mixes these elements in a way that is designed to persuade us and shape our own opinions and beliefs. These messages are communicated to us in both our personal and professional lives via a variety of media: the internet, television, radio, journal articles, advertisements, lectures, papers, speeches, movies, billboards, posters, and even casual conversations. For brevity, these various forms of communication will be referred to collectively as "arguments" or "messages."
Many of us are quick to identify arguments and messages that are rife with lies, but, as noted in the quote above, the art of seductive persuasion is best practiced by cleverly weaving together truth and fallacy. in this way, the unseasoned reader can be seduced by the parts that are truthful (or consistent with the reader's beliefs) and then lured into accepting the fallacies that have been woven in with the truth. The best way to avoid this pitfall is 1) to be aware of the techniques that are used and 2) to develop strong critical thinking skills by actively evaluating arguments and messages. This is a skill that requires practice.
Articles in well-respected, peer-reviewed scientific journals are less prone to misleading persuasive messages, but they too need to be critically evaluated to determine whether their conclusions are internally and externally valid. Guidance on assessing the validity of scientific artilces is provided in a separate online module (Critical Review).