Please note: The video below contains the same information as the article, but in a more conversational form. Choose which format you prefer!
I. Series Introduction: Information and Expertise
Everyday life is filled with decisions. Many of these decisions are made without knowing what the outcome will be. We rely on many things to help us make these decisions, including our own experience, intuition, assumptions how other people will act, and, the subject of this article, information from other people.
Everybody is an expert in something, but nobody, not even the super intelligent, can be an expert in everything. Each person trades the knowledge and skills he has in his own area for the knowledge and skills of other people’s areas. This is the division of labor that makes economies work, but also represents an information exchange. We trust our doctor to give us information about our health, and the doctor in turn trusts us to give him the benefits of our expertise – plumbing, teaching, even food service is an expertise – to meet his needs. Sometimes, money is involved in the trade, but often the information exchange is free and part of our friendships and social interactions. Advice about which wine tastes good or which plumber does the best job, are examples of this.
The members of the media are sort of information specialists, telling us about events that we cannot witness for ourselves. Often, however, media outlets do more than report events. They can move into areas that are well beyond news description, discussing scientific findings, political motivations, or promoting various prescriptions for action. On the internet, many such claims are made and distributed through a variety of networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, but just because something is published or claims to speak from authority, does not make it the truth. There is no media police to enforce honesty and integrity.
The purpose of this article, and the ones that will follow, is to assist the everyday person in figuring out which claims are likely to be true or likely to be false, without having to become an expert in the field. This way, we can spend our time on what matters – our own passions, expertise, and personal lives – and not on determining if a news story is true or not.
II. Three reasons we should all be skeptical