What About This…? 1.5.2017

By Wayne William Cipriano

We’ve all heard about Fake News and the related topic of whether Fake News had a significant effect on the latest Presidential Election.  There are certainly a lot of Fake News stories, at least what I consider a lot.  And they did not, in my opinion, have a significant effect (tilted it in one way or the other) on the election.

Still, Fake News is extremely important on at least two levels that I would like to suggest.  The first level is the need, the absolute requirement in a democratic republic like ours that we have a news source on which we can rely.  These “news” sources which have promulgated information that is plainly on its face ridiculous, underscores that necessity.

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America guarantees to all of us the right to a free press which of course means any of us can print a newspaper or a handbill, or finance a radio or television program, or write a blog on the internet or use any other media we can to circulate our opinions, and perhaps unfortunately, our own “facts.”  There are some very loose laws regarding lying about specific persons, but generally speaking we can publish whatever we wish.  And what freedom of the press doesn’t allow us, our Consti-tutional Right of freedom of speech does.

Fake News should not, and in reality cannot, be censored on the basis of “Truth.”

My first point is that newspapers like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the Douglas County Herald, and all other media like the major radio and television network news organizations must continue to concentrate on the Truth, even when that Truth agitates against whatever deeply held beliefs these organi-zations hold.  And, as long as they do that, they will be respected as the bastions of reality that we need to run our lives.  Do these organizations get stuff wrong?  Sure, all the time.  That’s the reason we see and hear “retractions.”  But if they strive to tell us the unvarnished, unbiased Truth, they maintain their integrity and earn our faith in the accuracy of their information.

My second point is two-fold.  First, we must use our intelligence to help evaluate what we perceive from these various information sources.  We must understand and appreciate that while anything is possible, (yes, pretty much anything is possible), only a small part of anything is probable.  We must train ourselves, and our youth, that “Truth” is much more important than what we “want to be true” or “would be cool if it were true.”

Consider the medical bromide, “when you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras,” or Billy Occum’s suggestion, (not my cousin Billy, but it could be), “the most simple explanation of a phenomenon is usually the correct one.”  Each of which offers intelligence, experi-ence, and even statistics as a good way to evaluate information.

How often are these approaches to information wrong?  Occasionally.  How occasionally? Very, very rarely.

It may be fun, interesting and even supportive of our biases to believe that a person who is not only an accomplished scholar, but also has served as the first lady of a state, the first lady of the United States of America, an United States Senator, the Secretary of State of the United States of America, and was elected one of the main political parties’ candidate for the Presidency of the United States of America, ran in her spare time, with the aid of the chief of her political campaign, a child sex ring out of the back door of a pizzeria in New Jersey.  But what leprechaun could believe that to be true?  You would think such Fake News, and the many similar examples of Fake News, would result in the attrition of these sources simply due to our intelli-gence.   But, it doesn’t happen.

Which leads me to the second half of my second point:  the failure of our education system to train our minds to evaluate the information we receive.  Sure, it’s fun, interesting, intriguing, and so on, but serious? Truthful?  Probable?  Perhaps as close to impossible as we can imagine.  The fact that such informa-tion works its way down to me, a rural farmer in Southern Missouri without “lol” attached, argues for the vast failure of which I write.  Such “information” should be the source of general ridicule, not even momen-tary consideration.  And, yet…..

Of course, very infrequently something that trains our deepest, most closely held beliefs in reality proves to be true (the ever increasing speed of our expanding universe for example).  But for every one of these anti-intuitive, world-shaking “impos-sible to believe” bits, hundreds of thousands of bits of information prove to be exactly what they appear to be on their face:  truth or bull.  The “truth” does not go away if no one believes it –– bull does.

Where is the training in our educational establishments, and in our homes, that arms our kids with the searchlight of reality that shines on these stories and inculcates them into our children’s, and our own, concept of a true reality, or simply, makes them and us laugh at the outright foolishness of the informa-tion?  Don’t we all long to hear our kids ask “how could anyone, even a leprechaun, believe that…?”

Shouldn’t our schools, and our homes, produce these kids?