Monday, November 07, 2011

When Fiction is Better Than Truth

I recently wrote about how too many people with a superficial understanding of an issue cast themselves in the role of experts, because they're too ignorant to realize how ignorant they are of the issue.  And other people who are equally ignorant latch on to the pseudo-expert's flawed opinions and repeat them, now believing themselves to be experts.

Now, I'm not using the term "ignorant" as an insult.  I mean it in the non-judgmental sense that these people are not experts, have no real claim to expertise, and are really just repeating what they remember from those they agree with, as they lack even the basic tools needed to know which experts to listen to.  Unfortunately, it takes quite awhile of study just to know what the hell the experts are talking about, and most non-experts don't think it's necessary.

And thus, too many folks are forced to make these decisions on emotional appeal, or some other non-technical reason for deciding who to trust.  And that's just how it is.  That's not a slam on them.  I'm not suggesting that they're stupid.  It's just that they are espousing opinions on topics they're unfamiliar with, and thus making things worse.  That's simply undeniable.  I'm not being a jerk here.  I'm just stating facts.

Please Read This

And so I saw one of my Facebook friends post a status saying
PLEASE READ THIS. Iceland has gone though what we are experiencing right now in this country, and they are now thriving. See what they did wrong and how they fixed it.
And it was for an article titled Why Iceland Should Be in the News But Is Not. And the whole thing is about how Iceland had all kinds of problems, but thanks to an unnoticed revolution, their neo-liberal government made all the right moves and has now created a new constitution, thanks to "participatory democratic process."

The piece is written with the air of an expert educating us about something important we hadn't heard of, because the media refuses to cover the story.  And so now this piece of "expertise" is buzzing around the internets, as people proudly proclaim the success in Iceland, despite the blackout in the mainstream media.  This is definitely a good narrative.

 Icelandic Experts

And what's the problem?  Large chunks of the article are simply wrong.  As it turns out, the person who wrote it wasn't an expert on the issue of Iceland, but rather, they were someone with a very superficial understanding of what was happening in Iceland, and they were piecing it together from various tidbits they had picked up.

Here's a debunking article: A Deconstruction of “Iceland's On-going Revolution, which is a considerably better read than the original.  So when the first paragraph of the original article describes Iceland as a member of the European Union that went bankrupt, you'll learn that Iceland isn't a member of the European Union and didn't go bankrupt.  Yeah, it's at that level of inaccuracy.  I mean, if you can't get the big stuff right, how much of an expert can you be on the little stuff?

And this isn't to pick on the writer, as I'm sure she meant well. But intentions aren't good enough.  If you're going to act like an expert, you've got to be an expert.  That's how it works. And while she now admits that there were errors with her piece, she still stands by the conclusion and refuses to update the article with any correction.

When the mainstream media does that sort of thing, we denounce them for it.  But because this writer is just an amateur and isn't expected to be held to the professional standards of those she denounces.  But of course, that's not how this is supposed to work.  Again, if you're pretending to be an expert, you've got to be an expert.  There are no excuses.

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