TL:DR spend an hour in a master class on how to avoid being fooled, or fooling yourself. Written by a former Naval Intelligence officer, it will be time very well spent.
(Seriously, what follows is just supporting material. It only describes my thinking and reasons. If you are short of time, I’ll forgive you for skipping it and going directly to the two links above.)
In the words of fictional TV medical misanthrope Gregory House, “I just like knowing stuff.” But this is not as simple as it sounds. Knowing facts by themselves is not exciting or useful. Seeing how they connect, how they fit into the context of reality? Priceless. But it isn’t super-easy to find such an illuminating perspective.
You won’t get it from watching a sportsball game. You certainly won’t get it by watching TV news. And a great deal of online news is worse, not better. If you want to go deeper, you look to experts. That is, people who have really learned about a subject until they can speak with authority about it.
I know, expertise is politically fraught. For example, just because someone got a graduate degree in physics, then a PhD in climate studies, then spent years in field work analyzing ice cores and satellite data, and published peer-reviewed papers in climate journals, and spent time with other scientists working it all out, it doesn’t mean they have anything to say about climate change. Better ask Senator Inhofe instead: he made a snowball once. And got tons of money from the oil industry.
But expertise does have value. If you want to know about basketball, you ask Michael Jordan, not me. I suppose I could read a Wikipedia article about the sport and make it through an interview, but Jordan is the Real Deal™. That’s expertise.
Back when Ebola was a big hairy deal*, I wanted to know more about it. I’ve already read several books on the subject, but what’s happening NOW, right? Simple: among the online personalities I follow are a working microbiologist and two working epidemiologists. Experts, in other words. Would you rather learn about Ebola from them? Or from a CNN talking head who found a spokeshead to interview?
Suppose the subject were more… abstract? Recent political developments have made Fake News a subject that is even more important than Ebola. Think on that: elections hang in the balance and elections DO matter. Is there such a thing as an expert in the subject of Fake News? Well… yeah, there is.
I suppose you could interview Steve Bannon or Paul Horner, if you could stand to be in the same room with either of them. And you’d certainly learn something about Fake News from them. But would you learn what you need to know to protect yourself from being fooled? What you really need is an expert in the art of making sense.
Suppose you had the chance to spend an hour with a retired Naval Intelligence officer? No charge, and you get to learn about his methods of analysis. Of identifying true facts from their supporting context, and filtering out the chaff. And most importantly, learning how to get your own bias out of the way. That’s Jim Wright, and he has written two articles that are a master class in making sense of a noisy fact-environment.
The average American lives seventy-eight years, or around six hundred eighty-four thousand hours. Spend one of those hours with this guy. Give him your full attention. You won’t be sorry.
- A vaccine for Ebola has been developed! All it took was a critical mass of white people exposed. (The vaccine is real, thank goodness. The link is satire, which works best when it contains elements of uncomfortable truth.)
- But Ebola is still a big deal, even if it is clean-shaven now. The larger topic of zoonotic infections? An even hairier, bigger deal, and it shows no signs of getting smaller anytime soon.
- While the facts given about Inhofe are true, giving them here could be a logical fallacy. For instance, I could have referred instead to Roger Pilkington, one of the few climate skeptics with any credibility left. Using even true facts about Inhofe is a Straw-Man argument, because I’m picking the biggest idiot on their side as a comparison to a majority of working climate scientists.