We all know that you shouldn’t believe everything that you read in the press , or hear on the news, don’t we? What’s the definition of lying? Inventing stories, misappropriating the truth, lies of omission, spin?
Richard Wilson’s Don’t Get Fooled Again is an illuminating compilation of methods and examples from both the 20th and 21st centuries in which governments and the general public have been duped by flawed thinking:
a) Pseudo-science – 30 million deaths in China as a result of adopting Lysenko’s agricultural reforms (already the cause of millions of deaths in Stalin’s Russia!).
b) Relativism - the uncounted number of deaths in Africa as a result of the success of those denying the existence of HIV and AIDS.
c) The power of vested interests and commercial journalism – the decade-long controvery over whether smoking was bad for your health.
d) Groupthink – spiralling terrorism leading inevitability to the second Iraq war and the excesses at Abu Ghraib.
Wilson doesn’t just detail the facts in his examples. He explains the underlying psychologies. It’s only by understanding these that we, as individuals, can choose not to get fooled again. He offers the following toolkit for spotting manipulation:
1) The antidotes to delusion are logic and evidence, preferably from multiple sources.
2) Remember – it’s not all relative!
3) Spot the false sceptic. Remarkably credulous about facts which support their viewpoint but always demanding more evidence for those which do not.
4) Beware of groupthink.
I haven’t read a newspaper in years because of the underlying – and manipulative – bias of the writing. I think I might just revisit that policy. Armed with the above, it will be an interesting exercise.