An article donated by
Alton C. Thompson:
There is Information, and
Then There is INFORMATION:
The point that I wish to illustrate here regarding my title is that the word <information> can refer to a variety of statements, as the figure below indicates:
I think it important to recognize this fact because, unlike our hunter-gatherer ancestors, we moderns get most of our “information” not from direct observation and learning from other members of our group, but from media: From listening to a radio, watching television, reading Internet articles, and/or reading newspapers, magazines, books, etc. That fact that the “information” with which we are presented has been “manufactured” by someone else—whether an individual, a private organization, or a governmental agency—means that the “manufacturer” of that “information” may have ulterior motives; may, that is, be striving to shape our thinking in a way advantageous to the “manufacturer.”
If you are like me, you learned to trust your parents and your teachers, being taught that only “gospel truth” came from their lips. Because of that, we became “programmed” to believe what we hear from politicians, from television journalists, from what we read in newspapers/books, etc. However, that “programming” can be used by others to their advantage, not yours.
I credit a professor of American History who I had as an undergraduate, with helping me become ‘weaned” away from accepting statements, “on face,” as being true. This professor had us do readings in a book with a title like "Readings in American History." For a given subject—such as our Civil War—the book contained excerpts from books, by different scholars, that gave the perspective of each author on the war. One could assume that each of the scholars was striving to present objective truth. However, because each had a different upbringing, had had different life experiences, had read different materials, etc., each had developed a perspective that was unique to that individual. I learned from that college experience not to assume that because the statements of some given individual—whether a scholar or not—has the “last word” to offer on some subject.
Since my college days I have strived to keep that fact in mind, but am certain that I haven’t. In fact, I would assume that no one has! The current presidency of Donald J. Trump, however, has reminded me of that fact! A new book, for example: "Donald Trump and His Assault on Truth: The President's Falsehoods, Misleading Claims and Flat-Out Lies," was published in 2020-JUN. 1
Realization of the facts that truth-telling is important, but not practiced well (if at all!) by some in our society (most notably politicians and some “personalities” on television stations). It occurred to me recently that it might be useful to develop a list of the categories of statements that one is likely to encounter — hence, the above table as a tentative such list.
I offer a few comments about each of eight categories on the above list:
First, though, a definition of “information” itself: Information can be thought of as the resolution of uncertainty; it is that which answers the question of "what an entity is" and thus defines both its essence and nature of its characteristics. The concept of information has different meanings in different contexts. Thus the concept becomes related to notions of constraint, communication, control, data, form, education, knowledge, meaning, understanding, mental stimuli, pattern, perception, representation, and entropy.
That may not strike you as a strange way to think about “information,” but it’s not a concept of “information” with which I agree! I think of “information” as simply statements that convey purported truths.
Next, a commentary on each of the eight types of “information statements” listed in the above table:
Category I: The words “true” and “important” here need comment. “True” here refers to objective truth, and “objective” here refers to statements that most “qualified” observers agree as true. For example, about 97 % of climate scientists believe that global warming is occurring. That’s a good indication that global warming is actually occurring! It must be kept in mind, however, that just because most specialists during some given time period believe that something is “true” — that the Earth is flat, for example — it does not follow from that fact that they are certain to be right! (There are,
though, still “flat-earthers”!)
Despite the fact that the vast majority of climate scientists “believe in” global warming, the media have been rather “silent” about this — a fact that has caused Yale University to create a Program on Climate Change Communication 2 to investigate this “spiral of silence.” The Guardian has, for example, published an article with the title “Why are the US news media so bad at covering climate change?,” etc. Given that our species appears to be headed for extinction soon, that lack of reporting is a serious problem!!
Category II: Much of what is reported by the media is in this category.
Category III: That which is commonly referred to as “filler” falls into this category: Information about “celebrities,” ‘human interest” stories, entertaining statements, etc.
Category IV: Much of what is reported on, e.g., ABC, NBC, and CBS falls into this category. It’s certainly understandable why partial reporting occurs: There are many “facts” associated with some given event, and that means that because of time limitations faced by, e.g., television news
programs: Those who prepare stories for news readers need to make judgments as to what should, and should not, be reported to the public. One would like to think that those judgments are made honestly; but even if they are, the judgment of one news writer is not likely to be the same as that of another such writer. Thus, if one hears a news story that one regards as important, and believes that there may be “more to it” than what has been reported on one’s local ABC television station, for example, one should seek additional information elsewhere—on CNN or MSNBC, for example, or a newspaper, such as the New York Times.
If one hears/reads information that one regards as important, but suspects as being of a partial nature, one would like to think that that information is at least true. The writer of the information may, though, have a bias, and be partial deliberately, with the hope that the
information given will be accepted, even though misleading.
The problem with misleading information is that it cause one to act in a manner that serves neither one’s own interests, or the interests of others.
Category V: Of information that is both important and false, two current examples are what Pres. Trump has said about:
- The coronavirus problem (it will “disappear”). 3
- Referring to global warming as a “hoax.” 4
Category VI: Undeserving of comment!
Category VII: A just-published book, "Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All," argues, for example, that:
-Carbon emissions peaked and have been declining in most developed nations for over a decade.
-Deaths from extreme weather, even in poor nations, declined 80 percent over the last four decades.
-The risk of Earth warming to very high temperatures is increasingly unlikely thanks to slowing population growth and abundant natural gas.
Few academic climate scientists would agree with this! The “blurb” that accompanies the advertisement for the book ends this way:
"What’s really behind the rise of apocalyptic environmentalism? There are powerful financial interests. There are desires for status and power. But most of all there is a desire among supposedly secular people for transcendence. This spiritual impulse can be natural and healthy. But in preaching fear without love, and guilt without redemption, the new religion is failing to satisfy our deepest psychological and existential needs."
It’s hard to determine what values underlie the above claims, but they are too absurd to comment on!
Category VIII: Too unimportant to comment on!
- The Washington Post Fact Checker Staff, "Donald Trump and His Assault on Truth: The President's Falsehoods, Misleading Claims and Flat-Out Lies,"
Amazon.com, at: https://www.amazon.com/
- "Yale program on Climate Change Communication," Yale University, undated, at: https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/
- Emerald Bensadoun, "Trump says he still believes coronavirus will ‘sort of just disappear’," Global News, 2020-JUL-01, at: https://globalnews.ca/
- "Donald Trump Called Climate Change a Hoax. Now He's Awkwardly Boasting About Fighting It," Time, 2019-JUL-08, at: https://time.com
Original posting: 2020-JUL-04
Donated by author: Alton C. Thompson