Sunday, January 31, 2016

Misinformation is Alive and Well

I haven't posted here in quite a while, but feel the urge!  I love learning new things and sharing information.  As much as I love the sharing, it's obvious at times there is too much sharing going on of misinformation--on blogs, Facebook posts, email forwards and right out of political candidates mouths!

I'm as likely as anyone else to have particular opinions and as reluctant as anyone to give up those opinions when presented with contrary statements.  However, I care about truth (in information, in advertising, in how I live my life) and so I am exploring the issue of misinformation and our surprising attachment to it when it fits in with our beliefs and our previous opinions, even in the face of contradictory evidence.

This phenomenon is readily apparent during this presidential campaign season.  It is easy enough to fact check candidates' statements and see the frequency of stretching the truth, waffling with the truth, or outright lying, but it seems we are willing to overlook, excuse or even accept the most bold-faced untruths from a candidate we support.
This issue is as old as time.  Back in the 16th century,  Francis Bacon, philosopher, statesman, scientist, author, jurist  (1561-1626) said:

The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else-by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusion may remain inviolate

– Francis Bacon
As a librarian who has assisted many patrons in finding information, it has been all too common for them to reject information that would challenge or refute their ideas and only look for information that would support their ideas, despite the authority or validity of the source.  Contradictory information was deemed inaccurate or false, even when it wasn't.

An excellent article about this cognitive bias can be found here The Backfire Effect on the website,  You Are Not So Smart.

The next question is?  With such a strong human propensity to hold onto our opinions; how can we trust that the truth about important issues (climate change, health care, etc.) can be seen, believed and addressed?  We can have different opinions, but we should at least be dealing with the same facts.

No comments: