Apr 7, 2021 • 1HR 18M

Ep15 - The NYT Approach to Fighting Inaccurate Information is Problematic

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Discover how to use critical thinking to tear complex issues down to their simple basics and have productive conversations with friends and family about any topic under the sun.
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Attention is the new currency. And news outlets will do anything to get it. That includes doling out biased information lacking context or straight-up deception. Critical thinking is your weapon to cut through the noise. But how? The New York Times presents a method, called SIFT, in the article, Don't Go Down the Rabbit Hole.

In this episode of Mentally Unscripted, Paul and Scott dissect SIFT. In doing so, they render their judgment on this model.

To borrow a phrase from data processing, garbage in garbage out. That means the output of any model is only as good as the data you put into it. SIFT is no exception. It's only as good as the effort you put into it.

While it seems like the authors are presenting this model in good faith, it only works if you use it in good faith. If all you're doing is looking for information to confirm your biases, this model is perfect for you.

To put it another way. SIFT is much more apt to give biased, agenda-driven people the illusion of critical thinking than it is to help them get to the meat of an argument. Thus, it will only reinforce the notion that they're correct. 

Think of it as "How stupid people can make it look like they're thinking without having to think."

Listen to the podcast to hear the flaws in the model and how you can improve it.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

  • The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity, by Douglass Murray

  • Paul Graham

Mental models, biases, and fallacies mentioned in this episode:

  • Incentives matter

  • Consensus and social proof

  • Steelman

  • Confirmation bias

  • Disconfirming evidence

  • Cognitive dissonance

  • Probabilistic thinking

  • Bayesian updating

  • Halo/Horn effect

  • Triangulation

  • Prioritization

  • Low information diet

  • Availability heuristic

  • Silly/serious syndrome

Image by John Forster from Pixabay