THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS OF READING THE NEWS
- Reasoning By Proxy Bias: In an attempt to cope with the insane amount of information we receive constantly over the course of modern day life, we’ve come to rely on proxies in order to balance the cognitive load and better manage our decisions. In effect, we depend on the views of others to inform the choices we make and the opinions we have — and this ultimately takes the place of critical thinking. Voting along party lines rather than weighing the pros and cons of each issue we care about is just one example of this.
- Confirmation Bias: The tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities. Examples: watching Fox News if you’re a conservative, or reading Huffington Post if you’re a liberal.
- Selection Bias: The selection of individuals, groups, or data for analysis in such a way that proper randomization is not achieved, thereby ensuring that the sample obtained is not representative of the population intended to be analyzed. For example, we commonly say things like, “The world is going to Hell,” when in reality it’s improving by most objective measures.
- Bandwagon Effect Bias: A phenomenon whereby the rate of uptake of beliefs, ideas, fads, and trends increases the more that they have already been adopted by others. Like proxy bias, we’re allowing the group to which we belong or identify stand in to make decisions for us as a way to relieve our cognitive load instead of directly making decisions ourselves. Examples: relying on Yelp reviews or Consumer Reports to inform the restaurants we visit and the purchases we make.Related to this, we also rely on social proofing (of which there are five major types: geographic, crowds, friends, celebrities, experts) — which is basically the Bandwagon Effect applied to more targeted purposes.
- Straw-Man Fallacy: This is when we misrepresent someone’s argument to make it easier to attack. Talking head punditry on television and most reactionary Internet political commentary fall into this category. Dictators have used this since the beginning of time. Convince someone that the other side is the devil and anything associated with them is sanctioning evil. Examples: Conservatives are all racist, xenophobic jerks, therefore a conservative public servant is all those things. Liberals want to destroy the fabric of American society and therefore every progressive policy should be summarily thrown out and opposed with fury.
- Appeal to Emotion Fallacy: Use emotion rather than fact to win an argument. This is heavily used in the headline space and by advocacy organizations. Tell an emotional story to supplant the need for steady logic with a narrative that will grab people viscerally. Example: Kony2012 — everyone got so wrapped up in the narrative of child soldiers that they donated without question and without an understanding of the issues affecting the region.
- False Cause Fallacy: Confusing correlation with causation. Many times when data is presented, correlational statistics (this thing happened when these other things happened) are presented as causation (this thing happened and caused this thing). Example: Most of the time when you read a headline that says “A new study finds…” coffee is healthy, coffee is poison, sportscaster causes cancer, hugs cure polio, etc.
To read more check out the AoC site and podcast interview with Alex here – Alex Kouts | The 7 Deadly Sins of Reading the News (Episode 614)