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The Age of Misinformation: Part 2 October 20, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in InformationIssues.
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There was recently an interesting conversation on (my new obsession) the Brian Lehrer Show (broadcast on WNYC and via XM’s NPR channel 134) on the prevalent and growing bias in news coverage. The host and his guest were discussing CNN‘s decline in ratings over recent years due to, they surmised, the outlet’s attempt to remain neutral. On the other hand, stations like NBC, CBS, and Fox News Channel are gaining popularity as the former two are known for leaning liberal and the latter, notoriously conservative. It seems, historically as well as recently, that people tend to seek out information that agrees with their own belief systems, better known as confirmation bias. I know I am as guilty of this as the next person.

So is there a danger in watching solely Fox or only NBC? Does such a practice really perpetuate our enemy–misinformation? An exhaustive study on confirmation bias done by Raymond S. Nickerson of Tufts University would overwhelmingly say yes. Nickerson’s research (presented in a 46 page paper) claims that confirmation bias, “can contribute to delusions of many sorts, to the development and survival of superstitions,and to a variety of undesirable states of mind, including paranoia and depression. It can be exploited…to press unsubstantiated claims.”  Nickerson later discusses another problem compounded by confirmation bias–inadequate research. Nickerson argues that confirmation bias leads people to accept the first plausible solution to a problem rather than to engage in thorough research. This, in turn, leads to a phenomenon that he will neither categorize as positive or negative–the perseverance of long-held beliefs.

You know you are guilty of it whether you’re a Democrat wincing at the site of Fox News Channel or a Republican who will only watch Fox News. You were probably also aware (on some level) that this is not the most intellectually engaging way of consuming information. So what are you going to do about it? Let me know in what ways we can all attempt to heal the growing divisiveness of American political television and thus thwart the pandemic of Misinformation!

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