26 November 2016

Beyond Help

Posted by Dan Satterfield

The Reading Room at the British Museum in London. Dan's photo.

The Reading Room at the British Museum in London. Dan’s photo.

Scientific method requires verified data, and this is part of its genius to discern truth, but I suspect those trained in science, easily forget that this understanding is far less common among the rest of the population. Our educational system seems to have left too many people with the inability to understand their own confirmation bias, and to critically judge what they read and hear. We must do a better job of teaching critical thinking skills in high schools, because we have a (growing?) population of people who seem unable to tell myth from reality.

Here is an example: I shared a post on Facebook this week by Tim O’Reilly, titled How I Detect Fake News. It’s a well written piece, and he talks about how Snopes is a good first check on spotting fake news, but that they cannot catch everything. As an inhabitant of the worlds of both science and journalism, I can verify how serious this issue has become. In almost any decent newsroom, you know you have the story about right when you get complaints of bias from both sides, and indeed, I think journalists understand confirmation bias better than some psychologists!

As a perfect example, I received a Facebook comment about the O’Reilly piece. It was a link to a fake news article about how Snopes.com is a biased, liberal, internet site. Did they have any idea that they were responding to a piece about fake news, by sending me an article from a fake news site? 

Not in a million years, and that makes me sad. I think I’ll make another donation to my local library.