Pay attention; get some context; ask questions; stop and think. Misinformation doesn’t thrive because we can’t spot the tricks. It thrives because, all too often, we don’t try. We don’t try, because we are confident that we already did.
Competitive debating largely ignores the meta-debate of what motion should be debated. In 2016, the UK electorate was asked whether or not we wished to leave or remain in the EU. Prime Minister David Cameron argued that the only sensible answer was Remain, but simply asking the question implied that either answer was reasonable.
Or consider climate change. We could debate the motion “This house believes veganism is necessary to meet the threat of climate change”, or “This house believes a carbon tax is sufficient to meet the threat of climate change”, or “This house believes there is no threat from climate change”. Which motion gets attention may be more important than any debate that follows.
Debating also feeds some of our less admirable urges. It sometimes pretends to be a search for the truth, but the real goal is not truth but victory.
What we need now are outcome pessimists who are control optimists — people who believe that the post-Covid world can be better, but only if we decide to make it so.
Pepsi twice ended up in court after promotions went disastrously wrong. Other big companies have fallen into the same trap – promising customers rewards so generous that to fulfil the promise…
A Dutch resistance newspaper published the news and Van Meegeren waved it away, claiming that he had signed hundreds of copies of the book and the dedication must have been added by someone else. It’s a ludicrous excuse. But people wanted to believe it. Wishful thinking is a powerful thing.
Caught in a scandal, a modern-day Van Meegeren would say, “That’s not my voice on the tape,” or call the story “fake news”. And their supporters would agree. It seems that if you show people a trickster with a sense of humour, a penchant for mocking experts and the capacity to land a few blows on a hated enemy, they will forgive a lot. What they cannot forgive they will find ways to ignore. Recent experience has only reinforced that lesson.
With human projects and ventures we have another story. These are often scalable, as I said in Chapter 3. With scalable variables, the ones from Extremistan, you will witness the exact opposite effect. Let’s say a project is expected to terminate in 79 days, the same expectation in days as the newborn female has in years. On the 79th day, if the project is not finished, it will be expected to take another 25 days to complete. But on the 90th day, if the project is still not completed, it should have about 58 days to go. On the 100th, it should have 89 days to go. On the 119th, it should have an extra 149 days. On day 600, if the project is not done, you will be expected to need an extra 1,590 days. As you see, the longer you wait, the longer you will be expected to wait.(Page 159)
My book The Data Detective is out today in the US and Canada. (The same book is called How To Make The World Add Up elsewhere in the world.) To celebrate publication, Riverhead Books have teamed up…
A curious person enjoys being surprised and hungers for the unexpected.
One strategy he shares for fostering this is to get people to simply explain what they are talking about. Rather than justifying why a universal based income is important, get them to explain what it is.
Tim is an economist, journalist and broadcaster. He is author of “How To Make the World Add Up” / “The Data Detective”, “Messy”, and the million-selling “The Undercover Economist”. Tim is a senior columnist at the Financial Times, and the presenter of Radio 4’s “More or Less”, the iTunes-topping series “Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy”, and the podcast “Cautionary Tales”. Tim has spoken at TED, PopTech and the Sydney Opera House. He is an associate member of Nuffield College, Oxford and an honorary fellow of the Royal Statistical Society. Tim was made an OBE for services to improving economic understanding in the New Year honours of 2019.
Covid-19 may be as significant an episode as any, but it will not trigger the same sharp memories. Where were you during the pandemic? At home. For months. And without a physical change of scene, even new experiences all start to seem the same.
“You need to get out more,” someone once admonished me. She was right. These days, we all do.