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October 24, 2017

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letter to the editor:

Being informed vs. being manipulated

The March 21 letter “Too many people are uninformed” says that it is easy to be informed. I disagree. I think it’s darned hard to be really informed.

A good part of the problem is that, in the Internet and broadcast media, we are assaulted with a flood of information, much of it with one agenda or another behind it, and much of it including unsupported or distorted “facts.”

Two big categories of this are propaganda and advertising. We have not sufficient time nor technical means to sort out what’s really relevant and what’s a distraction, what’s true and what’s a lie, and numerous other subtleties rendering what seems to be information into misinformation, or even malinformation.

Perhaps there are good answers to this. I don’t know what they are. The best I can offer is to work at it, to take a somewhat skeptical attitude to most things, and to track things down as best one can. Like I said, it’s not easy. It takes work.

The letter said that being uninformed is a road to manipulation. That’s true, but there’s more than that.

“Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” by Robert Cialdini, explores how we can be manipulated, even when we are informed — and that’s assuming we actually want to be informed. Many people simply rationalize their pre-existing beliefs, rejecting data contrary to them.

Breaking out of this box (which psychologists call confirmation bias) is really hard.

The best I can offer on that front is to be aware of why you believe what you do and to really think about things challenging your beliefs.

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