The (Mis)Information Age, Part 1

misinformation1

I’ve been watching a fascinating series on Netflix: The Untold History of the United States (Oliver Stone, 2012), twelve presentations based on a particular interpretation of documented events during the 20th century, especially events related to the politics of war, specifically the cold war. I find it fascinating because it seems well researched and well presented, and it also reinforces my biases regarding the duplicity of modern politics (and probably ancient politics also). And as a result, I am challenged again to decide if the information is actually mis-information — hence my title The (Mis)Information Age.

Reviews[1] of the series were mixed, with claims that there was really nothing new presented in the interpretations provided, and that there was much selective cherry-picking of the information presented. Perhaps this is true, but I still find that it provides me with much information that I had not previously encountered, and as a result that I have been reflecting a lot on how do I process information in the modern age.

My Experience of Trust

When I was a young boy, if I wanted to know something about a topic, I went to the encyclopedia; if needed, I went to the local library and searched for the topic in the Encyclopedia Britannica — the definitive source of the time. There I would find a concise three to five page article on the topic, and I had a sense of trust that I had now found useful information, actual knowledge of the state of the world at the current time. And that there was not easily a better source available.

Almost certainly this was a gross error, and if reviewed now, the information would undoubtedly be considered heavily biased (male perspective, British Empire perspective, et cetera). However, it was a world in which there was a sense of trust. Such trust was manifest in many ways. Many days as a child, I wandered freely over the neighborhood, perhaps blocks away, with no sense of fear. As a much younger child, I frequently visited with the “neighborhood grand-father,” where together with eight or ten other four-year-olds he would read us stories on Saturday mornings. I also recall going to school alone on the bus when I was seven or eight, perhaps younger. My older brother and I, he then perhaps nine or ten years old, would hop on the bus and go downtown to the Saturday morning movies, alone. When somewhat older, I cannot recall that I ever locked a bicycle or a car; most of the time the house door was unlocked, unless we were planning to be away for a few days.

In the interim, in my lifetime, I have watched the erosion of trust, both within myself, and within society in general. As I am sure you the reader know, almost no one fails to lock their home or their car anymore, or if they do, they worry until they return, fearful that it will be vandalized or stolen. Who today would think of leaving a younger child to go to the movies by themselves? Or allowing a young child to take public transit alone?

Nor do I trust modern communications, especially the media, and also much of professional literature. I have six university degrees, all of them in some way related to science; hence I generally understand scientific reports, but I do not trust many of the conclusions presented in modern scientific reports. I am very aware of the ways in which the language used in reports are heavily biased in subtle ways. Especially I do not trust the writings in psycho-pharmacology or nutrition (I also have a 1000 hours training as a cook, and know the politics of the culinary field).

Thus, I have my own issues with (mis)information.

To be continued (Cognitive Biases and Whom To Trust).

[1] The Untold History of the United States,  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Untold_History_of_the_United_States, accessed 2017 February 14

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