Thursday, December 6, 2012

Where to Begin (a "Truth Project" worthy of the name)? (#5)

Over the years, my thinking on why I should bother have developed and gotten clearer.

Theoretically,  with the Internet, we have immediate access to almost infinitely more "information" than was at our fingertips even 30 years ago.  But most people will probably agree that "most people" (but a different "most people" from themselves) are systematically mislead by information sources they trust.
This "most people" is easy to arrive at if you combine, in the U.S., people, more or less leftish people who view people on the "right" as terribly deluded (by Fox News and similar venues, and "think tanks" that have arisen in the last few decades) on the one hand and people on the "right" who think the "left" is terribly deluded by the New York Times and "main stream media", and academia, on the other hand.  Is there anyone, on either side, or in the middle, who looks around and sees a solid majority of people being well served by news sources, and getting it more or less right?

At the same time, an awful lot of fear, anger, and even hate, is being carelessly spewed by highly paid commentators and others, in a technological world where it is too easy for one person to kill 50 or 100, or a couple of dozen to kill thousands, especially if people have so much despair that they think they have nothing to lose.  This ease of a small number of people killing a large number is fairly new.  It could not be done with swords or muzzle-loading guns.

If there is a sort of agreement, among people who otherwise strongly disagree, that most people have a hard time getting at the truth, is there any chance of agreeing on any sort of action to make things less murky or more transparent?  Is there even any way to do that?  No, there isn't a way, but I believe there are hundreds of ways to make the situation better.  Some would fail, and perhaps none would be easy, but I will be trying to make the point that it may be as essential to our survival as medical research (note that effective medical treatment, while sought and attempted for millennia, was nearly nonexistent before the last century, or at least before around 1850).

Traditionally, such questions have led to discussions of how to make people better at thinking and recognizing truth, mostly described as "critical thinking skills".

But I will go out on a limb and say "better thinking" approaches alone will accomplish only a small fraction of what might be accomplished if combined with strenuous efforts at better generation and handling of information, and facilitating transparency in every way possible.

One can consider all directions and aspects of the flow of (purported)  information.  We should ask who is good at finding, evaluating and providing reliable information, or deciding between truth and falsehood.

There are parliamentary methods of trying to facilitate debates in which the best arguments win (not the loudest or most emotional or most disrespectful of others' right to make their points).  While there are no perfect methods, at least there are some that are more likely to reveal the truth than a free-for-all.  There are courtroom procedures that try to give the truth a better chance against expert emotional manipulation.  Most successful have been the institutions of science.  While imperfect, their results show they have upped the odds that the truth will emerge.

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