Since you don’t have anything else to do these days besides refreshing your inbox every five minutes, hoping for an interview invitation to come in for your Round 2 applications (or looking at finance sites to see how bad the markets are crashing), we’re going to continue distracting you with our philosphi-politi-intellectual postings about what it takes to be a smart person in the world.
If you missed it, Part 1 is here, wherein we plead with you to please pay attention to what’s going on in the world.
And Part 2 is where we talked about the very real phenomenon of fake news (that’s an odd statement, isn’t it? that fake news is real? hmmm, the mind can play with that for awhile can’t it).
So today is Part 3 where we’re going to cover some examples from the media to help you flex those muscles of yours.
We’ll start with an easy one:
Want to live longer? Try going to the opera. Researchers in Britain have found that people who reported going to a museum or concert even once a year lived longer than those who didn’t. https://t.co/ViHTXbSfyG
— NYT Health (@NYTHealth) December 22, 2019
You all know the problem with this, dontchya?
If you want to think about it for a moment, we’re pausing here to let you do so, before announcing the issue.
How the NYTimes Health peeps got that wrong:
answer: Correlation is not causation ← drag to select that space there to reveal the answer
If you’re ready to keep reading, then we’ll discuss it further — scroll down after you understand for yourself what the issue was, to get a bit more from us about it.
(Spending time thinking for yourself is the key! Don’t just accept stuff being spoonfed to you; stop and reflect when you’re consuming information. From any source. This skill is important!)
The issue with that headline is that these two data points — living longer, and going to the opera — have no causal relationship. In the study they were found to be associated, but you can’t live longer by going to the opera.
Okay, moving on.
So that one was easy.
How about this one? Here’s the headline:
This is a story that most of you probably would not have read if it had crossed your radar because a) this Ukraine stuff is SO boring, and b) it’s a very small squabble involving politicians and drama and really who cares!!?*
But let’s look at that headline.
As written, doesn’t it sound like one person said to another person’s face, speaking directly, like in a real-time discussion that got heated, “Dude, you can just shove it!”
At least, that’s what we thought when we saw it.
But guess what really happened?
The politician did not say “Shove it” to anyone.
The politician explicitly did not say “Shove it” to another politician.
Instead, what happened was the politician got a letter from his colleague’s attorney saying that the colleague would sue him over something the politician said about his colleague.
(Which, by the way, would not hold up in court, based on how the libel and slander laws are written in the U.S.)
In response, the politician wrote a letter to the attorney where he said:
“I welcome any lawsuit from your client and look forward to taking discovery of Congressman Nunes. Or, you can take your letter and shove it.”
Here’s the actual letter he wrote:
And here’s the tweet that the journalist apparently just took and turned into a whole article for their newspaper:
Attached is the first page of a five page letter in which the lawyer for @DevinNunes threatens that Rep Nunes will sue me.
Attached is my response. pic.twitter.com/bWAqdRhq97
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) January 17, 2020
So does the reporter’s characterization of this exchange as reflected in that title properly represent what actually happened?
No, not really.
Upon even a cursory examination, these are obvious examples of clickbaity headlines.
We like to think that those media outlets that strive for honest and ethical journalism won’t succumb to the temptation of clickbait, and that you wouldn’t usually see these on the front page of a major mainstream newspaper like the NYTimes or WaPo. But that’s just our earnest and misguided wish, and it does not map to reality. Because all media outlets want you to click through and read stuff. Some are way worse than others in trying to hit on those emotional triggers in their readers. But all of them rely on the same tactics at least in part. There is no such thing as a completely unbiased and honest headline or article. All writers have a slant, even when they’re trying to be fair.
And if you’re skimming the headlines of the opinion section, you’re inundated with clickbait. (Don’t know how to tell the difference between an “opinion” piece and a news article? Please read that link! This differentiation is important for you as a person living in our world today!!)
Learning these skills of critical thinking are so important. In this day and age, perhaps it’s not a question of are you paranoid. It’s a question of are you paranoid enough?
* Actually it’s EssaySnark’s perspective that all of us should care about what our politicians are doing — maybe not to the extent of reading about their squabbles like this or falling for clickbait headlines such as the ones we’re featuring today, but yeah, we hope that you’re at least loosely conversant with what the President of the United States has been accused of doing in the Ukraine scandal and why that’s not OK. Because if each of us individually aren’t paying attention and decide that we don’t care, then we’re going to end up in a totalitarian state where human rights are being trampled and those in power get away with literal murder. This stuff matters. Please stay involved and aware.
You may also be interested in:
- How do you know who to believe? linked above and we’re calling it out again separately here since yeah this stuff is important