The problem with information
Your information about the world around us comes in unlimited supply from a great variety of sources. To start with, it might be a good idea to separate between processed and unprocessed information. Any raw data, such as actual observations, is immediately processed by the person observing the event. Here’s some food for thought:
Every piece of information that you are likely to get your hands on is processed information. Reading the news? Processed. Watching the news online or on TV? Processed. Reading a book? Someone retelling a story? Processed.
This means that if you observe something – on a good day the event that took place can be called raw unprocessed data. We do not take into account here that events can be staged. You observe the event and you interpret it. This is the first round of interpretation, and as you retell it to others several rounds of the same will ensue.
It’s much like the game chinese whispers, an excellent children’s game that could teach us that every person relaying information is a possible source of error and a possible additional step away from an accurate retelling of any event. This is called a cumulative error. Here, we could move deeper into the problem areas of language and communication, but we will leave that for another day. So where were we? Ah yes, this, quite possibly flawed information, ends up in a factory called the media – in this example, let us use a traditional tabloid newspaper.
Here a whole new process takes place. Let us assume that the information has traveled all this way through people who have no interest in tweaking the information. They have no agenda, no reason to change anything for their own gain. This is a huge assumption, but let’s suspend our disbelief and accept this as true for the sake of argument.
This tabloid newspaper is running a business and the sole purpose of any business is to maximize profits for the shareholders. So now the already flawed information will receive a spin that makes people buy newspapers. Because now, the information has become something that can be bought and sold. The rules of the market place now apply and the rules of the media are governed by these rules. The media will spin and alter information as much as their conscience and the law allows for so as to ensure profit.
Media will do this by toying with different triggers that they know from experience make people buy newspapers. Fear, of course, being one of them. In their defense, not all papers are tabloids, but the essence of what I’m saying holds true for other media outlets as well.
Now, sometimes media will contact an expert on a subject for an analysis of the incoming information. This expert can put things into context, and will have theories and opinions. Contact another expert, and he or she will draw the opposite conclusion based on the same information. We now find ourselves in the next step of the process away from raw data. Based on flawed information, possibly spun by media, experts form an opinion. Based on this opinion, or perhaps based on the media message, people around us form opinions. As I believe I have demonstrated, the foundations for these opinions rest on shaky ground to say the least.
The process of politics is roughly the same, where the media has an agenda based on maximizing profits for shareholders, they may at the very same time have a political agenda. The politics themselves are tweaking information to suit their needs. Even the works produced by scientists can be biased towards a political or religious belief system. To summarize I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Democritos of Abdera who said:
Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion.
And this is why everything you think you know is wrong.