Lately, I have been hearing a lot of stupid statements. “Humans are mammals, but not animals”… “Vaccines cause autism”… “The earth is flat”… “Humans cannot cause global warming”… “I don’t believe in the holocaust” ect. Initially, when I hear things like this, I want to pull my hair out and am in disbelief that evolved adult human beings can say such claims with full belief, but then I calm down and try to reason with them and show them evidence of where they went wrong. If you have ever tried this approach I am sure you know where this is going… nowhere. Most people seem to be locked into their beliefs and no matter what anyone shows them, they’re not buying it. As this has been happening more and more to myself, I have started to question what this says about our society. Are we getting dumber? Are we devolving?
Personally, I don’t think so, I think we have always been this dumb. I think the issue is that we are now, more than ever before, connected to each other and can communicate at speeds faster than ever. Today, the amount of misinformation and disinformation is staggering and is only growing. Here in America, we have a president claiming fake news whenever he hears something he doesn’t like, people being able to post anything on social media, youtube, or online in general without people fact-checking them. Take my blog for example. I get to sit in my room, open up my computer, write anything down, and- if I am persuasive enough- convince people to believe my ideas. No one is fact checking me, and readers often just read it and believe it, especially if the author has any credibility. It is our new ability to share and disseminate information across the planet faster than ever before that is causing a large confusion amongst the public.
But, there is also another problem going on here. One of my favorite people, Neil deGrasse Tyson, summed up the problem perfectly, saying, “Americans overall are bad at science. Scared of math. Poor at physics and engineering. Resistant to evolution. This science illiteracy, is a threat to the nation.” Today, many Americans do not care about the sciences. There are many stereotypes pushing people away from the sciences at young ages. This has created a generation of ignorance, where people will read an article and believe it as fact without doing any further research, get a majority of their news and information from youtube and social media, and trap themselves into a confirmation bias bubble. Luckily, there are ways to escape this and help yourself spot idiotic claims.
One of the first things you should do is look at the author and the references. You need to see if the author has a past of shady behavior and trying to spread bogus claims. You should also ask yourself “What will this person gain if I believe in what he is saying?” Idiotic claims are spread from two people: People who are making money off the claim, and people who are dumb enough to get fooled. Also, looking at the references people use is very important. There is a big difference between spreading opinion and spreading objective fact-based claims. Make sure you keep an eye out.
Next, look out for cherry picking. For those who do not know, cherry picking is selectively choosing (the most beneficial items) from what is available. For example, I could find a quote that says “This is the best blog ever”. Now that may seem awesome, but the actual quote said “This is the best blog ever if you are looking for something to laugh at. Nothing the author says is true, and he offers no basis to even share his ideas. He should have given up before he even started.” Those are a little different when the correct context is added huh? Also, averages and clever wording are great ways that people spread idiotic claims. For example, I can tell you that the average height of a room is 5’10”. You may imagine a room full of average adults, but if you dug deeper you would find out it was actually an NBA team in a room full of eight-year-olds. Be careful about what quotes people are giving out.
Finally, look out for yourself. The biggest liar in a group is going to be yourself. Everyone has their own confirmation bias and pride makes it hard to notice when you are actually wrong. If you are getting overly mad in a debate, sit back and ask yourself why? Is this an actual issue to get mad about? Or is it something that goes against what you believe and was taught? Looking out for your own biases and admitting when you were wrong is a great way to improve the number of idiotic claims being tossed around today.
Continuing to learn from credible sources and questioning everything will allow us to improve and progress forward as a society. Admitting when you are wrong and admitting you are ignorant of a lot more topics then you think is another good place to start. The world can be a very confusing place, but going to youtube for answers is not going to help you gain the sense of understanding you want.