Framing and Perception: Using Skepticism to Avoid Being Deceived

We’ve all heard the expression there’s two sides to every story. It implies that one side is the truth, and the other side is lying. While that can be true, it can also be that both sides are right, and are both just leaving out crucial factors. It could be that neither side is right, and the truth is something else entirely. It could be that one side is right, and the other believes they’re right, but are simply mistaken. And most commonly, it could be a matter of opinion, and there simply isn’t a right or wrong in the first place.

The point of skepticism, is to be able to consume information in such a way that you are least likely to be deceived, or make bad assumptions. Thus leading to more intelligent decisions, and typically better outcomes for you. Let’s look at some examples.

In April of 2019, it was reported in several news outlets that just eating one slice of bacon can increase your risk of colorectal cancer by 20%. You can see one instance of this report from CNN here. CNN was not dishonest in this reporting, that data is true.

But when you click the actual study, and apply a little skepticism (and some math), you might look at it a little differently.

There were 475,581 participants in the study, and a mere 2609 case of cancer reported among all participants. So if one group is 20% higher than the other, that means it’s approximately 45.4/54.6 split (45.4/54.6 = 120.2%, or 20% more).

54.6% of 2,609 = 1,425 (0.29% of the total group)

45.4% of 2609 = 1,184  (0.24% of the total group)

So while 1,425 is indeed 20% more than 1184, out of the total group or people observed (475,581) a mere 0.55% contracted colorectal cancer. A total of 241 more were the bacon eaters, or a mere 0.05% overall increase (0.29% vs 0.24%).

An almost entirely insignificant 0.05% or 241 out of 475,581 people doesn’t sound nearly as scary as 20%, does it? But scary sells news media, and journalists are rarely scientists.

This problem isn’t entirely about science, because you can apply these same skills to a myriad of things you’ll read or see in the media.

Imagine a news story we’ll call statement A with a headline that reads, “Woman courageously does all that is needed to put food on the plate for her child.”

Female Shoplifter

But then imagine a different news outlet runs a different headline we’ll call Statement B that reads, “Woman fired for drinking while at work, stole unhealthy snacks and booze from a grocery store.”

Statement A makes her sound like a hero, but Statement B tells a very different story. Both can be 100% true, but the context changes how you feel about the story entirely.

The point of all this are to make you think about any news story you read, and maybe think about changing the way you consume information. So here’s a couple of ideas on how to improve how you consume information.

  • Avoid click-bait headlines from sources you’ve never heard of, or that you know are openly biased. You know they’re all almost entirely bullshit. So why waste your time on them? The good ones will link to credibly sources, and you should click on those to read the whole story, if you do go down that road. But in general, if people stop clicking on clickbait, the people doing it will respond to the lack of demand for it, by ceasing to make it.
  • Read the article and not just the headline. Even reputable sources have resorted to click-bait headlines just so you’ll read their stories over the nonsense from non-reputable sites. You’re missing a lot of context and nuance if you don’t read the story. Not to mention, you look silly when you add your own comment that clearly shows you didn’t read the article.
  • Any story that says something like, “The such-and-such that such-and-such doesn’t want you to know” or “Person A destroys person B” is bullshit. All of it. Like every single one of them.” Stop sharing that nonsense. Seriously.
  • If you see a story and it seems pretty amazing, but you aren’t seeing it on reputable sources, I assure you, some podunk website did not scoop Reuters or AP. It’s bullshit that they didn’t vet properly, or worse, that they just made up.
  • Check a second source. This one is huge. If you see a story on a site that’s kinda reputable but not great, look for it on a site like Reuters or AP. If you confirm from multiple reputable sources, then it’s probably true. But if it’s multiple sources with the same bias, you should probably still avoid it.
  • Think about what’s being said in the story, and could there possibly be another way of looking at it.  For instance, if I told you France gets 75% of its energy from nuclear, where the United States only gets 20%, you could easily assume that France is a leader in nuclear energy compared to the United States. But if I told you France has 58 nuclear power facilities whereas the United States has 98, you’d think the US is the leader. Both are true, but both tell a different story. So it pays to dig into the data when you can, and form your own opinion based on all the information.

    Nuclear Power Plant Emits Only Water Vapor

Hopefully this helps you think about how to consume news differently, and prevents you from being that embarrassing friend on social media always sharing bullshit articles everyone but you seems to know isn’t true. You’ll thank me later. 🙂

 

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Average Joe SCOTUS – Obduskey v. McCarthy & Holthus LLP.

Some deadbeat named Obduskey financed a house in 2007. By 2009, he couldn’t be bothered to send in payments like the deadbeat that he was.

So Wells Fargo, the people who loaned the money to that deadbeat motherfucker, hired McCarthy & Holthus to do a non-judicial foreclosure on the home. (Non-Judicial just means they tried to privately collect the debt, vs take him to court and get a judgement against him.)

M&H did their thing, and Obduskey knew the jig was up. But this squirrely motherfucker was trying to avoid getting his ass kicked out. So he wrote some bullshit letter trying to dispute the debt. He wasn’t paying, yet somehow, he wanted to quibble over how much he owed them, instead of accepting that he just stopped paying altogether. I don’t even know this piece of shit, and I want to slap him.

Anyway, There’s some bullshit law called Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) which basically protects the consumers from harassing debt collectors. Never mind the poor debt holders that got screwed over by these dead beats—fuck them. What is wrong with our country that a dead beat has more protection under the law, than the people who loaned them money and got screwed by the deadbeat in the first place?

Sorry, I keep getting off track.

One of the rules of the FDCPA is that if the person sends written intent to dispute the debt, debt collections have to stop until it can be resolved.

But M&H said,

SCOTUS was asked to decide if the FDCPA apply to non-judicial foreclosure?

All nine told Obduskey to go fuck himself. A foreclosure is an attempt to recover the property so they can be made whole, not collect a debt. Meaning, they’ll sell his shit and get their money, and aren’t trying to get Obduskey to pay like a traditional debt collector.

Hear oral arguments and read about the case here.

Average Joe SCOTUS – Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com.

The people at Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. (FEPBC) write news and shit. So do the people at Wall-Street.com (WS). FEPBC then license people to use their content to groups like WS to use, which WS opted to do, because they’re lazy and can’t write their own shit apparently. Who knows?

Under license agreements with FEPBC, if WS decided to cancel their license subscription, they were supposed to remove the content. But WS was like, “Fuck all that, we’ve got more important shit to do. And besides, you don’t even have a copyright for that content, bitch!”

Here’s the rub. FEPBC had submitted paperwork to have their shit copyrighted, but it hadn’t yet been approved. So FEPBC was like, “We do have a copyright you asshat, remove our comment from your site post-haste!”

But then WS was all like, “If it ain’t registered, and you didn’t get that funny little letter saying as much, you don’t have jack shit—we’re leaving it up. Eat a bag of dicks.”

SCOTUS was asked to decide if a copyright was valid from the time it was applied for, or the time it was granted.

All nine sided with Wall-Street.com and told FEPBC that, “you have a copyright when we say you have a copyright motherfucker, and not a moment earlier. Now fuck off.” Judgement for Wall-Street.com

Read about the case and hear oral arguments here.

 

Average Joe SCOTUS – Herrera v. Wyoming

Herrera, a member of the Crow Tribe of Native Americans, was elk hunting on reservation land. Apparently, one of the wily elk decided to run for the border, and leave the reservation for a park that belonged to the state of Wyoming. It was the elk’s “Nana-nana-boo-boo” moment.

Herrera was not bothered by such borders however, followed the elk into the park, and Elmer Fudded that fur-ball with horns when he got his shot.

Herrera was busted by Wyoming for hunting elk off the reservation out of season and without a license in a state park.

Herrera was like, “Hold on, you mother fuckers. We had an 1868 treaty with Wyoming before it was even a state that allowed us to do this shit. It said we can hunt on any unoccupied land here. And this shit is unoccupied AF.”

But then Wyoming was like, “Listen. When Wyoming became a state, that treaty was basically toilet paper. And while we’re at it, this shit it occupied. There’s just no one living on it because we made it a state park.”

So now Herrera was like, “This is some bullshit, right here. Help me out, SCOTUS”

The left-wing part of SCOTUS, along with Gorsuch were like, “No problem Herrera. Fuck you Wyoming. He can hunt there. Just because we were nice enough to let you be a state in the greatest mother fucking country in the world, doesn’t mean you get out of all your treaties. And seriously, how the fuck you going to call a state park occupied? What the fuck is wrong with you? Are you serious right now?”

Judgement for Herrera

You can hear oral arguments or read about the case here.