Our world is awash with misinformation and disinformation. People are commonly confused about key issues including climate change and fossil fuels.
Self knowledge is the first step towards understanding. As the famous writer Leo Tolstoy (1828- 1910) said: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself“.
Coming to grips with the reality of our world starts with trying to ensure that we are perceiving the world accurately.
Knowing what is real and what is not has been compounded by post modernism and disinformation from industry and political leaders including the most compulsively dishonest commander and chief in history of the United States.
We live in a time where everyone seems to have a point of view. However, some points of view are more valid and more sound than others. Many of us are guilty of holding inaccurate views without being aware of it. So how do we arrive at a cogent, valid, and sound perspective? Here are some suggestions from science, media, and other approaches to critical thinking.
Scientific practices offer valuable approaches that can help us to minimize the effects of errors and bias:
1. Momentary individual error is factored out by a requirement of repeatability.
2. Individual systematic bias is constrained by a requirement of replicability
3. Set aside the silencing result of false consensus effects & social pressures against questioning assertions
4. Conventions that favour noting confounds and questioning outcomes.
5. Prospect of systematic group biases is constrained by the openness of the practice
What we have learned about coping with media bias may also help:
1. Look for direct sources of news (i.e. not quoted, not link-driven).
2. Make an effort to investigate news as it is experienced or accessed by people with very different values or backgrounds from yours.
Two other techniques may also help to address misunderstanding:
Metacognitive self-monitoring: Take a few minutes to explicitly summarize the reasons your opposite number has (or might have) for holding his/her view. Write the reasons out or explain them to a colleague or assistant. This approach can improve discussions and facilitate agreement.
Debiasing strategies: Make a habit of considering reasons why those who have not committed to your position might silently disagree. Create an environment in which voicing dissent is permissible; be the first person to air contrary opinions, at least as a devil’s advocate.
It should be noted that all of these approaches are only as effective as the rigor with which they are applied.