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Why facts don't convince

If nothing else positive comes from the outcome of the last presidential election, it has made a lot people start thinking about their thinking - including me.

I am a middle class, college-educated white male working in education. In my heart of hearts, I believed that I always made decisions based on good information (that is what librarians preach after all - see CRAAP Test). I believed that I could make a dispassionate assessment of nearly any problem and devise a reasonable solution that is for the greater good. I believed in science, in math, in logic, in Neil deGrasse Tyson, and in the Oxford comma.

Moreover, I believed that if others simply had all the facts, half a brain, and decent system of values, I could get anyone to agree with me on any issue. Those who did not were either misinformed, ethically challenged, or lacking brain power.

One of my favorite clips to show during keynotes that address the challenge of critical information evaluation skills is of Stephen Colbert delivering his homily on truthiness. Hah, hah, to think that there are actually people who are ruled by feelings instead of facts. I am glad that I, like most librarians, cannot be so categorized...



While I still consider myself to be well-informed about most  issues and that I retain humanistic values, I have been increasingly conscious that my side (the left) of the political spectrum is just as susceptible to 'truthiness". Even me. I am as capable of making judgements based on feelings from the heart as knowledge from the head. And it's only taken 60+ years for me to realize this.

While I continue to dislike and avoid right-wing agitprops like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and Breitbart, I am increasingly skeptical of my left-wing raconteurs as well. Paul Krugman and Tom Friedman and the Huffington Post are starting to sound repetitively shrill. I'm growing tired of misleading headlines that make a mountain of a molehill in reporting actions in Washington DC. I am whacking Facebook "friends" whose sole posting are political rants. The blur of journalism and editorialism exists as much on the left as it does on the right.

My favorite readings lately have been about why people choose to believe and value what they do. How can, for example, my smart and compassionate relatives not support expanded Medicare which covers more individuals in need to health care? How could a college-educated person have voted for Trump? Why is our state legislature not funding preschool for all students even when we have a $1.4 billion dollar surplus?

The often crude, but always funny Matthew Inman at the Oatmeal blog, recently posted a comic called "You're not going to believe what I am going to tell you" (careful, there is an adult version and a school-safe version) which by example explains the "backfire effect" in cognitive psychology: that when presented with evidence that contradicts our core values, those values and beliefs actually get stronger.

I have long been an advocate of teaching our students critical thinking and information evaluation skills.  Consider the source, the date, etc. of information found. But is that enough?

Do we also need to help our library users understand confirmation bias, the backfire effect, and persuasive techniques?

Even the rational mind may need a deeper understand of why facts are not enough.


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Reader Comments (1)

Connie Williams posted on the Knowledge Quest blog recently how the CRAAP test wasn't working for her and the issue of filter bubbles. Worth a read

May 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterFloyd Pentlin

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