Misinformation

by Mr. Cheap

Both of my uncles (by marriage thankfully) are huge bullshitters (as defined by “To attempt to mislead or deceive by talking nonsense“). I found it bizarre when they’d say things, I’d look it up later, and without fail it would be incorrect. With one of them, it’s so consistent that I can rely on what he says being wrong (if he says something I previously believed to be true, I’ll look it up just to make sure). I have no idea what the women in my family find attractive about them.

Throughout our lives we are fed information that isn’t true, and I think two important questions are “why would people do this to us?” and “what is the harm in it?”

Some people just aren’t very bright and a subset of these people are highly opinionated. I’d love it if they were self-aware enough to realize that a number of the opinions they spout are garbage and do a bit more research. However, I’m sympathetic to this group as I don’t think they mean harm and usually they’re pretty easy to spot. I’ll also humour people who clearly have a mental problem. I’ve known at least one genuine compulsive liar: people realized soon after meeting her that she wasn’t quite right and treated her with compassion and sympathy for the most part.

There are also people who spread misinformation because someone deceived them and they think its true. I don’t blame people in this situation, as long as they sincerely believe that what they’re saying is true. I hope that people in this position are willing to revise their beliefs when / if they come across evidence that they’re wrong.

I used to (naively) try to offer an alternative rationale to people if they were telling me something I knew was false. A while back a friend started talking about how a great stock buying strategy was buying companies before the stock split (“then you get twice as many shares!”). I tried to explain this was like saying you made money by exchanging a dollar for 4 quarters, that the underlying company hasn’t changed and you had twice as many shares, each worth half the previous value. He got upset with me. I’ve given up on this most of the time, and just nod my head and sadly say “good luck with that” when I see people making big bets on misinformation.

People making a career out of tricking us, like demagogues or scammers, obviously do their best to confuse us with misinformation (but I think we usually know its coming after a few bad experiences).

The motivation that really bugs me (and what I think is behind my uncles), is people who like to be in the position of knowing more than the people around them. I don’t think this is a terrible desire (although it certainly isn’t very noble), but it turns really ugly when people are too lazy to learn things and just make stuff up (guaranteed you’ll know more than everyone else if you’re talking about stuff you invented).

After listening to my uncles for a few years, I found myself in the disturbing situation that sometimes a topic would come up that they’d babbled about and I’d remember the garbage they’d said (instead of valid facts about it). Even worse, on a few occasions I used the information they’d provided (forgetting the source) and realized I was propagating the misinformation.

This is why I think spreading misinformation is incredibly harmful, it gets mistaken as valid info, and people use it to make decisions. Decisions made on the basis of things that aren’t true aren’t going to be very useful in achieving whatever we’re after.

Some people defend Rich Dad, Poor Dad saying that the book has major problems, but that there’s interesting motivational ideas about starting your own business (or whatever). I think there are real problems when you have to dig through a source of information and separate out the good and bad yourself. What if you get it wrong and lump in some bad info with the good, or dismiss good info with bad?

Thinking for yourself is important, but wading through a minefield of misinformation to try to find truths is a bad approach to learning. I already do this living my life! When I read a book, I’m counting on the author to have already separated out the good stuff for me. If he is unable (or can’t be bothered) to do so, why should I waste my time on his book?

How do you deal with people who try to feed you misinformation? How about when its a friend or a family member?

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