Moment of Inertia, Issue #10 | A Tough Sell

Even when we've learned everything there is to know, many of us are convinced there's more we're not seeing. It's perhaps the most dangerous quality of modern society. 


A Tough Sell 

The notion of Fake News has gotten a lot of attention the past few years, as well it should. There are good sources of information and there are bad and biased sources of information, and we should always try to check our confirmation biases and normalize the data we're given (these concepts are kind of a recurring thing here, in case you haven't noticed). However, there's a phenomenon that has been a source of misinformation and confusion for even longer than the deliberate creation of false information. In fact, it's my hypothesis that this phenomenon is in large part responsible for the wave of fake news that is currently running rampant around the world.

I call this phenomenon the "what are you trying to sell me?" effect (if you come up with a better name, or if there's already a name for this, please let me know). In this phenomenon, someone is told factual information, believes it, but is also suspicious of the person telling them - and that person's motives - because they are suspicious of additional factual information being withheld. I've found this phenomenon to be more insidious than outright acceptance of fake news because it's foundations are rooted in factual information - the recipients of that factual information, though, are just convinced that there's more information they're not being told.

For better or worse, my timing here is a bit fortuitous because the idea that there's more to the news than what we're hearing is back at the for efront of daily discussion. It's a much more persistent problem, though, in the sciences where, for some reason, people are convinced that a group of people who constantly share information (to a fault at times) are not telling society at large certain key pieces of information.

Whether it's a clinical trial that proves vaccines don't cause autism or a review of a key ingredient in a moisturizer, people are convinced there's something they're not being told. (Granted, not everyone feels this way, but I'd wager it's a larger portion of the population than the portion that believes fake news.) All this really is, though, is an exercise in anti-intellectual posturing conducted by a group of people who don't want to make the effort to consult multiple sources of information. If you think a scientific report (or any other report) is delivering incomplete information, then do what all the scientists and domain experts do and check other sources that cover the same topic. (And yes, I'm also saying that any "domain expert" that doesn't do this is undeserving of the title.)

By all means, question your sources and the information you're told, but don't do it from your armchair (unless of course you're diligently browsing the internet on a laptop). An informed dialog is only possible when we're all informed, though, so go out, talk to people, read peer-reviewed papers (whenever possible), and use your own best judgement (I trust you all... mostly). Patterns will emerge and, more often than not, those patterns outline the truth.

Sometimes the truth isn't particularly exciting. It doesn't mean there's anything more to the story, and that's okay. Isn't there enough excitement in the world already?