We can’t question everything we’re told. We’d have cognitive overload and we wouldn’t be able to take one step forward while our neurons were busily assessing this and that fact and this and that theory.
With the tons of information we are now sharing, however, it has become more important to make sure that we don’t contribute to the amount of lying, deceit and poor reporting that appears on the web (and outside of it!).
A couple of months ago, I came across a post on Facebook that two of my trusted, intelligent contacts had shared. It was an article quoting research by a university which basically said that chemotherapy was a waste of time and there were other, less painful and invasive ways of treating cancer. Obviously, this is something we all want to hear and something which we’d love to believe.
I started reading the post and at one point, can’t remember exactly which bit of advice it was exactly, I thought, “Hang on a second, surely it’s not that simple”. So I googled the University which had supposedly carried out the research and found a webpage titled “Cancer Update Email – It’s a Hoax”.
We are so prepared to believe and accept bits of information we believe to be true (or that we’d love to be true) that sometimes we don’t seek out information that will disprove the theory. That’s why I’m so glad that there are people out there who are doing precisely that: looking at the numbers behind reported statistics and news and studies in general. We can’t question everything we read, but let’s just stop every now and then and dig a bit deeper into what we hear or read about.
In preparation for the launch of my new podcast “Spain Uncovered”, I’ve been searching for some new shows and I found “The Reality Check”. This is a Canadian show, which makes a nice change as I mainly listen to British or US shows. The show is hosted by four guys (I’m envious, I’d love to do a show where I co-host with someone else…) and they put under the microscope all sorts of claims, stories and research.
I thought I’d write about it here and take the opportunity to also recommend BBC Radio 4’s “More or Less”, where Tim Harford and others look at the numbers behind the headlines, sometimes confirming, but often challenging, the original hypotheses.
These two shows are great – they’re fun, well put together, interesting… In addition to giving you even more information to filter, they also remind us of the need to question the headlines. We don’t always need to question what we’re told but if we want information to guide our behaviour, we should.