Surviving the news -part 2
In my previous post I considered the effect of using numbers to prove a point or to get an opinion to become fact. This is part two.
But why, I hear you say, is this important? So what if the figures are a little manipulated? The ends justify the means, don’t they?
Yes, and no. I have to say that I have no particular affiliation to a belief in Anthropogenic causes of Global Warming (the AGW) but then again there has to be an explanation and our human ability to drag stuff out of the ground and then burn it is rather a possible contender. But this article isn’t about Global warming it’s about us, we humans, about what we say and what we do and how we do it, particularly since we got hold of this wonderful thing called the internet.
I won’t deny that the way I deal with other people is highly dependent on
a) Whether I have anything relevant or useful to impart and
b) Whether I’m feeling pissed off.
Of course, there are huge variations in the delicacies of human interactions, a whole smorgasbord of vital nuances and levels of truthfulness that one employs to deal with daily intricacies and sudden questions such as “Exactly how much have you had to drink?”
My reply to same query will involve a variety of pre-prepared responses, carefully crafted from experience and delivered probably less carefully depending on whether I feel unctuous or am actually intoxicated. And in truth I will almost always manipulate the figures, varying the amount between 40 and 50 percent of the actual, real amount of alcoholic beverage actually, really consumed. My point is that most of us are not really that different and depending on context will, ahem, ‘Carefully correlate the likely potential for harm in lying, against the known effect of telling the truth’ (Me, 2016).
It really is a human gift and something we pick up at a surprisingly young age; about 3 and a half years into life according to some (Vitelli 2013) and perhaps even younger. As with all skills it is something we can hone with use.
Not that everyone is very good at it and some are even worse at spotting it as in the example of Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of England in 1938 who, after a meeting with Adolf Hitler on the question of Czechoslovakian annexation actually believed him when he said Germany would not go to war. “…here was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word…” (Ekman, 1992) wrote Chamberlain to his sister less than a year before the sound of jackboots were heard on Warsaw’s cobbles.
The point is, as a species that can manipulate information to breaking point we are at one and the same time woefully inadequate a spotting mendacity. So, imagine how easy it is to happily swallow all the kinds of information now floating around from TV and radio news to social media tweets and I am not just talking about target-driven ‘news’ (if you want a sense of what that is like just tune into a 16-21-year-old targeted radio station at news time and have a good giggle).
I recently read an article about apparent ‘fake news’ sites on the net. The reporter covered the story on the basis that a fake news detector was now available as a plug-in. You can now choose to accept news if you think it is real enough. I think it is just amazing that we don’t have this ability ourselves but actually need a computer program to tell us what is real. The article ended with a link directing me to another article that explained what ‘fake’ news actually is, just in case there was any confusion on the subject. All this from a well-respected and long-standing news organisation
– Or was it?
Seriously, though, in the very few short years since online information exploded we seem to have gone to town on the whole untruth-telling business which seems to be counter-intuitive to the whole internet ethos where the prevailing view is still that it is a great and good and useful concept.
Millions of people are glued to the web like flies, apparently heedless of the spiders in their midst.
A quote from the great John Lydon of Sex Pistols fame sums it up in quintessentially direct style.
“I have one major problem with the internet:
It’s full of liars.”