1 vote

Judging for pleasure and purpose

The DP community seems to be so open minded that it falls victim to charlatans. I did a speech for my Toastmaster’s group recently about how to use the web as healthy skeptics. Although my speech was quite different, I put together this bit from all my research notes to address what I see as a stumbling block for a contingent of the DP participants.

We’ve got a problem. We don’t trust easily. We don’t know who to trust. We base our fleeting trust on the asinine without bothering to do what we keep demanding of our leaders — read, digest, understand.

Problem #1 Source Veracity

1. Purpose of site — What does the site want from you?

• Is it selling you something? Are there amazing, natural, secret, revolutionary tidbits just awaiting your input of an email address? A purchase? This is a neon sign blinking: I’m an ad: This is marketing copy.

• Is it trying to convince you of something? If so, what? And why? Always ask why?

2. Who’s behind it?

• Look at the source authority of the site. If there’s no name; there’s no valuable info. People with real and valuable information WANT to attach their name to it.

• What are the source’s credentials? A bunch of letters after a name doesn’t mean much on the web. You can get a doctorate in something like coloring with Sharpies from a college in Hawaii or Arizona that was shut down for fraud the year after you “graduated.” You can also just make up capital letters and put them after your name. Also you can get other Sharpie doctors to endorse you by promising to endorse them.

• Does the source wish to communicate or to spout for his own sake? A source who wishes to communicate pays attention to the process of communication. There will be a logical progression of thought meant to elucidate.. A source who wishes to spew for his own jollies, doesn’t care about spelling and grammar, redundancy.

Problem #2: information veracity

• Is the thrust of the information toward discrediting rather than investigating? Does the site ask a lot of questions — Why? Who’s behind this? Why hasn’t this been explained? What aren’t the authorities telling you? — without proof of seeking answers.
• Does the source rely heavily on antidotal evidence?
• Does the source investigate criticism and problems with its theory. For example Ancient Alien researchers like to talk about those lines in South America that they think are landing strips, but don’t try to explain why high tech alien craft need ten miles to land while our human humble aircraft do so in a quarter mile.
• Does the source appeal to Big Names — Einstein, Tessla, Hawkings? Einstein hasn’t come up with anything new since his death in 1955. Real researchers cite names that are current in their field, names we haven’t heard.
• Does the source appeal to Big Concepts. Chemical free? Nothing is chemical free. Anyone who says that obvious has no idea what a chemical is and can’t be trusted. “All natural.” Cancer is all natural. The phrase is without meaning. Ancient wisdom? Hidden knowledge? We’re not interested if some ancient guy believed something. We’re interested in if it’s true. Again, marketing copy.
• Does the source provide links to primary sources and attribution for quotes?

Problem #3: Worshiping the Open Mind

1. Check in with your own needs. Are your feeling desperate? Are your looking for reassurance? Hard facts? Respected opinion? Anyone’s opinion? All are valid. But only if we know what we’re looking for and why are we able to be healthy skeptics.

Most of us want certainty and to believe we have some control. We want simple, neat explanations. But the world doesn’t always comply. Know what you want from a source first. If you want to buy the best vitamins you can get, you may start with scientific studies and get frustrated. You may resort to pursuing vitamin sales websites and pick one that makes you feel like you’re getting the best vitamin. But don’t confuse your frustration with the complexity of determining the actual best vitamin with your willingness to take one that makes you feel like you’re getting the best.

2. Know your reaction to a claim. When we encounter a claim, there’s a range of common acceptance — from probably true to probably not true. Ask yourself: Is this the way I think the world works? Do I think it’s more likely that nearly all the medical researchers in the country are keeping revolutionary health fixes from the masses? Or is it more likely that saying so makes good marketing copy for a guy’s book? Ask yourself: Is there’s a simpler explanation for an astounding claim than the one offered?

3. Cultivate awareness of your own confirmation bias. It’s disquieting to change a fundamental belief and so we build up an immunity against new ideas. In fact, the smarter we are, the better we are at this. Make a habit of questioning your assumptions and the group from which you get those assumptions confirmed. If you’re a 9/11 Truther, you’re a sheeple within the movement you’ve embraced. If you wish to be an independent thinker, you must question your base. You must continuously consider yourself a sheep and think offensively.