I love science. My parents fostered a great sense of curiosity in me and the need to learn. Part of this was the ability to question what was presented and come to my own conclusions as to whether it was correct or not. It was okay to change my mind as new evidence was presented, included my own experiences and this is how we grow as individuals.
At university we were taught to go to the primary sources for information – not the summaries or reviews but read the original papers and decide whether the research was sound for ourselves. Corrections are regularly published for papers (or retractions made) and these are not always referenced when the original paper is cited, perpetuating the error. (I don’t want to get into a discussion of specific examples as this will detract from the point of this post).
With the upcoming general election in the UK I am getting more and more frustrated by the lack of logical thought in the general electorate and even individuals I normally respect for their intelligence and insight.
The problem for me is this: all the political parties create lengthy manifestos that the majority of people will never read. These are summarised by the media (sometimes just from the press conferences and not the original documents) but those summaries are always biased. Detail is condensed into soundbites that, out of context, can be interpreted differently and, once on twitter (or other social media), they are designed to provoke response.
We are creatures of habit. We like positive reinforcement of our own thoughts and conclusions and will discard what does not fit. If you’re looking for advice, how often do you keep asking different people until someone agrees with what you want to do? The media know this and will pander to their target markets, ignoring what their readers might not receive well. In this age of advert based revenue, and where images can easily be manipulated, be wary of the sensationalist click-bait headlines and the motives behind them.
So, question what you are presented with, no matter who passes you the information. Go to the original sources if you can, but most importantly, challenge your assumptions – get the detail on views that are opposite to your own without the spin and read it impassively.
Changing your mind with new evidence or experience is a logical thing to do and nobody should be ridiculed for this.