smason edit.jpg (23187 bytes)Look At It This Way
by Dr. Steve Mason

We make some of our greatest gains
When we see old things
In new ways


Breaking News

In a recent study, it was found that 87% of subjects didn't need glasses after eating a carrot a day for 30 days.

But before you go out and buy a bunch, I must tell you that what you just read isn't true. I made it up to make a point. People tend to believe things they see in print and especially so if it includes a statistic. Even a meaningless one. How do you know, for example, that 87% of the subjects didn't need glasses before eating the carrots? And the fact that I linked carrots with vision also made it easy to believe. During WW II, it was widely reported that British pilots ate carrots to improve their night vision. This wasn't true but it kept the Germans from realizing that a new invention, Radar, was being used against them. To this day, the myth of carrots and improved vision continues.

Getting back to the power of the printed word, I was once at a party where I made a statement that didn't sound quite right to one of the other guests. As he started to explain why he was right and I was wrong, I walked over to a table, picked up a magazine and opened it to an article that made my point exactly. The crowd that had gathered around me and the smart alleck was impressed. Ususally, I don't think of the perfect retort until I'm driving home but this time, there it was right there in print and as I recall it even contained a statistic or two. It was a good thing no one thought to find the author's name as I was the one who had written the article.

Interestingly enough, sometimes not writing an article serves a purpose. If an experiment doesn't come out the way one thinks it should, one can always say nothing and try it again. So when you hear about a remarkable finding on the morning news, remember that you may not be hearing about all the times there was no finding.

And it doesn't hurt to include the name of a recognized authority with the printed word. When I was still a student, I realized that many academic papers involve little more than repeating things that more famous people had said. This goes all the way back to Plato...who repeated what Socratrates said.

Then too, it helps if your audience already believes (as was the case with carrots and vision) what you say. This is called Confirmation Bias and explains why there are opposing news networks and why there is so much fake news. Commentators on the Left and on the Right (you know who they are) are not so much reporters as repeaters. They say the same things to the same followers who respond with a DITTO every time. As I see it, once a celebrity pundit gets a lable - Conservative or Liberal, Republican or Democrat - the message stops and the massage begins.

Look At It This Way

A dangerous phase begins when the message feels so good that the two sides start pulling apart and, allowing a wedge, issues to develop. This may be okay for a sporting event where fans can yell and scream from opposite sides of a stadium but it's no way to run a country. And if anyone doubts that, just open your paper to this page and point to this column.

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