“The ethic of honesty has been overwhelmed by the mass production of ignorance.”
This is essentially the overriding theme of the book. And the main reason given for this trend is the lack of time and resources with which journalists can play with. News agencies and PR agencies are feeding through their news items, many of which are being fed to the “news consumer” at the speed of lighting without really taking the time to verify the facts. How much are WE responsible for this, those of us on the other side of the page (or the screen)?
Reading the book I was reminded of the importance, as news consumer, of taking the time to read through the news item (and not be swept away by the headline) to understand what is being said and just as importantly, who it’s being said by.
And this goes double (or triple!) for studies and medical research. The scientist in me gets woken up every time I hear 50% of blah and a recent study shows that blah – what size was the group on which research was carried out? In the field or in the lab? Who was the study commissioned by? (At this point and allowing myself to digress, I’d like to recommend Bad Science by Ben Goldacre – link below.)
Back to Flat Earth News. Of course, as important as what gets reported, is what does not get reported. This is where I’m enjoying the book the most, although it might have more to do with my “gossip” side of the brain (that which likes hearing stories) than my intellectual one. It is horrifying to think how much our experience of the world we live in is shaped by the media. And now that we have access to what is going on in most of the world, I sometimes have a false sense that I know about the world I live in.
But of course I don’t – citing an example from the book: take Guatemala. Have you heard anything about Guatemala lately? In the same summer as Hurricane Katrina hit Kansas, an earthquake also hit Guatemala, leaving 120,000 people homeless (0.9% of its population more or less, in the spirit of putting numbers into context). I never heard about it. I rarely hear anything about what happens in Guatemala.
So I do recommend Flat Earth News, it’s a good reminder to take responsibility for our own view of the world. And as those of you reading this blog will know, I do like responsibility and I like accountability.