Making Reasonable & Informed Decisions on Public Issues

Instructor: Angelica Goldman

Angelica has taught college and high school history and social sciences, has a master's degree in history, and is a licensed FL teacher.

This lesson will help you learn how citizens in a democracy can make the the best decisions on public issues. We will cover where to look for information and how to make a decision based on facts.

Making Informed Choices

How do you decide who or what to vote for? How can you tell what public issues and positions you really support? Do you check Facebook? Watch the news? Turn on your favorite podcast?

Citizens in a democracy have many different options on public issues. Knowing what to choose can become confusing. Bias, or a preference for one type of view, has snuck into many of common sources citizens use to help them make choices. Even some news sources are no longer bias-free. Another common pitfall is sources that appear to be legitimate, but are in fact, false. In this lesson, we will look at ways to identify good sources. Once you have good information, you can proceed to make a good decision.

Finding Good Sources

The first step to making reasonable and informed decisions is to identify objective sources of information on the issue you are interested in. Objective sources are sources that are free from bias or an agenda designed to influence a choice one way or another.

The best types of sources are facts from educational or scientific organizations. For example, if you are looking for information on whether to support an initiative on going to the moon, a good source would be the United States Government's National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). This is an agency that is tasked solely with objectively evaluating information related to exploring outer space and then acting on it. Legitimate news and journalistic organizations can also be good sources, as long as their reporting covers a variety of views instead of just one type. Facebook, politically-affiliated websites, and news sites that only present one type of view are not good sources of information.

To find out if a source is objective, an easy test is to ask yourself if the author of the source is trying to convince you of something in particular. If they are, the source most likely has an agenda or something to gain. If they are not, then the source is most likely good to use. For example, if you are looking for a website about whether or not to support going to the moon, a website that runs advertisements that say 'Moon trips are for losers' is probably not going to be an objective site!

A note on agendas - agendas are not inherently good or bad, but for the purpose of making an informed decision, it is best to steer clear of sites and sources that have them.

Time to Decide

Once you have obtained background information on a topic, it is time to make a decision about the issue. In a democracy, a key democratic value is considering an issue's impact on yourself and on other citizens in your nation. Let's keep going with our trip to the moon example. NASA is proposing that they make a new trip to the moon to see whether a new type of technology could someday let human beings live there. The trip to test the technology would be very expensive. It could also potentially give NASA a lot more information about what would be necessary to someday establish a human colony on our moon. The government is asking citizens to vote on this issue to decide whether or not to fund this trip.

When you are making a decision on this public issue, you would want to consider both the effect of a new policy on you personally, as well as on all the other people who live in your country. Strong decisions come from having a good knowledge of the facts of the situation, and from looking at the issue from multiple points of view. An important feature of a truly reasonable decision is thinking about how the issue impacts others, and not just yourself.

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