In the rules of evidence - what a judge applies to determine what statements or material are "admissible" to be considered in deciding a case - hearsay statements are generally prohibited. The idea is that if you heard it from a friend, who, heard it from a friend, who, heard it from another - then in addition to being an REO Speedwagon fan and per se unreliable, you don't have first-hand knowledge of what happened and you aren't a witness. You're just some distant bystander who heard some rumors.
There is a special category of hearsay, however, called "statements against interest" that may be admitted as evidence. In a trial where Joe is on trial for murder, a witness Judy can testify that Bob "told me that Joe and I murdered Kate to cover up our robbery." That may be admitted as evidence against Joe because Bob's statement to Judy puts Bob in legal jeopardy. It is thought that very few people would put themselves in legal jeopardy were the statement untrue. Thus Bob's statement against his own interests is deemed likely to be reliable, and admissible.
I follow the same rule in life. If somebody is telling me something that advances their interests, I am skeptical of it and believe it only where there are other indicia of its truthfulness. If a person says something that cuts against their interest but in favor of mine - like when my mechanic says "I found the problem, it's a $3 gasket that will take me two minutes to change" (rather than a $500 part that will take a half day) then I tend to believe the statement is truthful.
The same is doubly true in politics. You should ask yourself if a partisan's version of a political argument cuts for, or against their interests. Sure, I have deeply held beliefs about various issues, but I don't believe *any* politicians deeply. Nothing they say ever cuts against their own positions. Do you think this is because they tell the truth all the time, and it just happens to line up with their interests? Or because maybe they aren't being quite truthful. This principle seems applicable to the political media, leaders of major businesses, and academia. (Although BP has a gift for saying things that cut against its own interest, and which also seem dishonest, so take them as the exception that proves the rule).
I bring this up because of three recent instances where the pictures or stories defy conventional wisdom in a "question authority" kind of way. Full disclosure: this also confirms my bias, BTW, against people who try to sell me on their vision of things.
We were told this guy is the epitome of cool:
Look, I'm glad he's riding a bike, that's awesome, but that photo makes the kludgiest Career Commuter sit slack-jawed in horror. That is not "cool." I am willing to cut the guy a break; POTUS is the shittiest job in the world, and you can't make your own base happy much less your political opponents, and he's working as best he can consistent with his views on how things oughtta go. Sometimes, he even takes a glamorous looking picture, and maybe he's cool by Senate standards, but that's the Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations there. But he isn't cool. It's not that guys who play a lot of hoops and run a big enterprise can't look cool on a bike; check out Bron-Bron:
He looks good for a 6'7" galoot on a bike that's missing half a fork. Okay, so the "cool" myth about the current POTUS doesn't fly with me. Nor does the "not cool" myth with another guy who, admittedly, isn't that cool. But he's cooler than Obama, at least on a bike:
Yeah, that's John Kerry. For all his flaws, he doesn't pain the eyes quite in the way as POTUS does on the bike, and he looks like he's comfortable on that sweet ride, that looks to be a Serotta. I've seen him in lycra too, and he's no Fred. Oh yeah, and there's one other guy who was generally thought to be pretty un-cool, but who was pretty cool on the bike, and pretty cool to mountain bikers in particular.
That's Bush 43, riding the Olympic MTB course in Beijing. The Secret Service guys who rode MTB with him reported that he is an absolute hammer for a guy his age. Not exactly Deadly Nedly Overend, but still a fast rider who went hard and could handle intermediate trails pretty well.
The storylines - current POTUS = cool, last POTUS = doofus, Kerry = dork - got handed to you because they fit somebody else's agenda. If you're going to dabble in policy or politics (or economics or anything else in the public sphere) you need to question people's pre-conceived notions, particularly your own. The truth is often in a battle with our beliefs.
My point here is that Abby Hoffman was right. You shouldn't believe the received wisdom. You should question authority, question the science. If somebody in authority tells you something and it happens to support their existing positions, if it doesn't cut against their interest but it cuts against yours, ask questions. You might find that what they are saying on a particular issue isn't exactly true, even though it dovetails perfectly with what your notions of the truth are on a given issue. And don't believe what I'm telling you either.
[Updated slightly for grammar and to clarify a couple points]