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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The challenge of misinformation

David Frum, in his final CNN column, sketches out the contours of our misinformed era:
Information has never been more accessible and abundant. And yet so much of that information turns out not be true. And whereas in early terms it was the least informed people who were vulnerable to the grossest inaccuracies, today it is very often the nominally best informed.

How you assess economic conditions, for example, turns out be less connected to actual economic events than how you feel about the party of the president. Better education seems actually to enhance one's vulnerability to partisan distortion: A 2008 Pew study found that Republicans who had completed college were more likely to reject the scientific consensus on climate change than Republicans who had not done so.

More sophisticated news consumers turn out to use this sophistication to do a better job of filtering out what they don't want to hear.
Me: That last point is the most surprising part of the phenomenon. Sophisticated people are misinformed, too--in fact, may be more misinformed in some ways than less sophisticated people. Did any futurist predict that a deluge of information would leave people less knowledgeable and more prone to misconstrue reality? I wrote last year about how financial professionals, with vast data at their fingertips, can live in a bubble (and am pleased that piece was given some recognition recently). I wonder sometimes about the new trend of data journalism. To what extent will it make sense of the flood of data, and to what extent will it provide more sophisticated ways for writers and readers to convince themselves, without justification, that they know what's going on?

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