What We Want, Choose and Need to Believe

protestCompiled by Newsbyrd Staff –

(June 21, 2012)  Quora.com is a forum that enables the user to ask questions while others -often times experts in the field-  give their answers, thoughts and perspective. On the “weighty scale” the questions range from, “Is it acceptable to wear one’s bathrobe out in public,” to “Why do living things die?”

Newsbyrd.com depends on credible information from the web, but that’s not always found with a mere click of the Google button.  There are trillions of bits of information on the internet and for every fact, if one looks hard enough, one can find a complete opposite and diametric “truth”.

We might ask, “How can that happen?”  Well, Quora.com already did…

QUORA: Why do people appear to be so systematically misinformed about basic facts?

I’m not talking about complex, difficult-to-understand concepts like climate change or evolution.  I’m talking about basic facts.  E.g., in the immediate run-up to the 2010 US midterm elections, a Bloomberg poll found that people, by a 2-to-1 margin, believed their taxes had increased, the economy had contracted, and the billions of dollars in TARP funds would never be recovered.  In each case, the opposite is true.  (Source:http://www.bloomberg.com/news/20… ).

These are uncontroversial facts that can be empirically assessed.  One could point to many more examples of the same phenomenon.  What are the reasons for this lack of understanding in an age of information super abundance?

Response from Elizabeth Grattan

While information may be readily available, that doesn’t mean it will be readily sought out or digested or even understood by all. Humans still tend to rely on confirmation bias and subjective trust in traditions and authorities in their life.

Once a person has formulated an idea about an issue or set their mind on an “answer” to a query they have, it is usually difficult to override this. The human brain likes to believe it has it figured out.

Parents are a strong influence in the next generation, in addition to peers. When a person is relying on a social circle for learning and gaining knowledge about their world, it becomes very much a cycle of ignorance in many cases.

There is also an incorrect understanding of what is factual and what is opinion.

Quite frankly, while there are many people who might be informed, there are not very many who are educated. There is a difference.

Response from Marcus Geduld

“I’m talking about basic facts.  E.g., in the immediate run-up to the 2010 US midterm elections, a Bloomberg poll found that people, by a 2-to-1 margin, believed their taxes had increased…”

That’s not something one can just know, by magic. To know the truth about taxes, you have to research, even if, in this case, “research” is simply googling. People don’t know basic facts because they haven’t looked up those basic facts.

Most people don’t research, unless they’re trying to figure out how to do something specific, like cook a recipe. They don’t think to research just a random fact, even if they use it in conversation.

In the U.S., at least, research isn’t even stressed in schools. I once taught a college course, for Freshmen, in which I gave students a sort of library scavenger hunt. They had to find answers to ten questions, and I told them all the answers were in one room of the Library (the reference room). I gave them four hours to find the answers.

Most of my students were totally lost. They just stared at the books. None of them got all the answers right, and the average score was something like three out of ten.

And I didn’t ask trick questions.

But knowing how to research is the small part of the problem. The bigger part is thinking to do it in the first place — simply having research embedded in your brain as something one does.

Every day on Quora, I am able to answer at least one question by a simple google search. And by simple, I mean one search followed by a click on one of the links on the first results page. Yet the asker didn’t think to do that. Some people have “I don’t know the answer, there for I’ll look it up” as a brain module. Others don’t.

Finally, I’d say that most of the time, people don’t research because they don’t care about the facts. This actually makes sense, because they’re not talking about facts, even if that’s what it seems like they’re doing on the surface. You brought up politics. Well, most political conversations aren’t about facts. They’re about cheering on your team and booing the other team. 

Response from Gary Rutz

Depends on the topic and on the emotional resonance of the facts. Some facts are (usually) well accepted.  The day of the week, the time the store closes, when you fall, you fall down (i.e. gravity). But these days, many people shout that they speak facts when in fact, they are either twisting the facts,
manipulating the facts or otherwise presenting facts to their advantage.

Why? Because it’s very popular to claim to be on the side of FACTS.  Saying it’s an opinion and 50% of the people can automatically discount you.  Saying it’s a FACT requires that same 50% to present a different set of facts.  Saying it’s a FACT gives a lot of emotional ego support to whoever is supporting any action or inaction, attack or defense.


Posted by at June 21, 2012
Filed in category: Culture, Politics, Society, and tagged with: , ,

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