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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!

Jump or Go Down with the Ship? Abandoning Books is Not for Me May 6, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in reading, Uncategorized.
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I’d like to state that I always finish books I start, even the bad ones- but with 1 observation, 1 exception and 1 caveat to the rule. First, the observation, and this is merely a personal fact about myself: I read slowly. I read lots, I enjoy reading and will read just about anything – I’m just not fast about it.

Borrowed under Creative Commons from kwerfeldein's flickr stream

The reason I point out this observation about myself is to explain the exception to my above-stated rule of always finishing books, which is I rarely finished the books assigned in high school. Part of me wishes I could claim, I was a rebel and no one was going to tell me what to read (a statement I have in fact made) but the truth is I often liked the assigned books; I just didn’t read fast enough to finish the assigned chapters every night. Soon I was giving up on that book and starting the next assigned novel, and just never looked back. Some of them I plan to pick up again someday though.

Which brings me to the caveat: sometimes it takes a really long time for me to finish a book, and I might read another 1, 2, or 12 books in between. Remember my review of Crossworld? It took me something like 5 years to get through that book! There are several books I have started, and will ultimately finish, but for some reason or another they’ve been put on hiatus. One is Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A lovely book with such real passion, but I just can’t read more than a few pages at a time. I don’t even know what it is about it that makes me have to put it down, but I just can’t bring myself to get to the end. I wonder if subconsciously I don’t want to know how it ends… (don’t tell me!)

Aside from high school and the books on hiatus, for some reason I am compelled to finish books. Generally, there are very few books I dislike enough to abandon completely, but it does happen once in awhile that a book just doesn’t hook me. But even those I usually try to get through. I just need to know how they end. For what its worth, I’m not suggesting this is a good quality about me – it’s just the way I am.

What about you, readers? How much time do you invest in a book you aren’t enjoying before you give it up? Do you have a set number of pages you always read before deciding to continue? Do you finish every book you start, no matter how terrible?

For more opinions check out this recent bit from NPR or this bit from a Contemporary Literature Blog.

Can a book written by committee be any good? My sources point to Yes! March 26, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in reading.
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Over at NPR’s All Things Considered is a piece about a newly released Thriller that was written by 22 writers. The novel, Watchlist is the result of collaboration of some of the best authors of modern thrillers, including Jeffrey Deaver and Lee Child. It started with a character created by Deaver, and then the story was passed from author to author, each adding a chapter and moving the story forward or in a new direction. It sounds like a project that can go either disastrously wrong, turn our incredibly brilliant. I haven’t read it, so I can’t say yet whether the collaboration was a success – but I’m certainly intrigued enough to check it out.

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