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Mired in Misinformation

When the word information comes up, it is usually laden with superlatives like deluge, tsunami, bombardment, onslaught, overload… No doubt, the internet is a great source of information, but it has also spawned an abundance of misinformation, disinformation and affirmation. Misinformation is unknowingly false, disinformation is purposely false and the most alluring of all is affirmation…you’re always right.

For most of history, it was hard to find information, now we cannot escape from it, even when we try.

The World Economic Forum in 2014, identified the top 10 challenging issues facing the world. Along with tensions in the Middle East, cyberattacks, income disparity, coming in at number 10 is the rapid spread of misinformation online.

This is a concern as the very nature of modern democracy is based on the premise that the collective decisions of a society are made by well-informed citizens.

Like a drop of ink in a glass of water, misinformation once out is almost impossible to undo. The prevalence of misinformation pollutes and undermines a citizen’s ability to make informed decisions about the world around us.

News Organizations
Our modern information abundance economy has permanently altered the ways information is collected, curated and distributed.

For many years we looked to traditional news organizations to sort out and let us know what is important, and we faithfully were a captive audience daily at six o’clock. Gone are the days when journalists took the time to seek, validate and deliver the truth. The rush of 24/7 information with technology has removed the element of time, putting mainstream media in a struggle to adapt and change.

Journalistic integrity is in conflict with news driven by the economy of real time information. In a battle between Speed and the Truth, Speed wins every time.

Modern journalism is economics, pageviews, and clicks, generating traffic is the major driving force. Writing about what is trending and what people are tweeting need not be about a Truth. Viral content monetizes, taking the time to search out the truth is an inefficiency that does not commoditize.

In 2008, BBC journalist Waseem Zakir coined the term “Churnalism.” The onslaught of information is affecting journalists as well as consumers. Rather than reporting, journalists have become filters and recyclers of press releases. Churnalism is an acceptable form of plagiarism and very economically efficient, press releases are copied and pasted, with a few original sentences and boom, there is your story.

In this environment of 24 hour news, floating in this swarm of information is misinformation. So what is the life-cycle of misinformation? A claim may rear its head on social media with a surprising or emotional hook, possibly a few news sites will pick it up with the prerequisite hedging ‘reportedly’ qualifier, once a story gains this stamp of press approval, other news sites will regurgitate ad infinitum. In a short amount of time, a single tweet can generate millions of shares of mindless propagation without a shred of validation or added value. This repetition is Truth by volume, if it’s on the internet, and everyone is saying it, it must be true. Right?

Mired in information, our brains cope by picking and choosing, we pick what we want to believe, what supports what we already believe and what we think we already “know.”

Floating in this torrent of information is misinformation. We are susceptible to misinformation, it has an emotional appeal, facts and truths require energy for deliberation and thought.

But what is even more interesting is when people are presented with facts that counter their already internalized misinformation, rather than assessing the new information, they double down on their belief.
This ‘backfire effect’ was coined by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler, leading political science researchers at Dartmouth. Once entrenched in a belief, when confronted with facts, most people will not change their opinion but will rather strengthen the belief.

What is the solution to misinformation? Debunking backfires. Nyhan has recommended that instead of focusing on correcting the misinformation, the focus should be at the source. Stop the propagation of misinformation. While intuitively obvious, such a solution is highly improbable given the industry’s financial motivation.

Information overload is not the problem. The spread of misinformation is not the problem. It is our inability to adapt to today’s modern information velocity that is the real issue. The sooner we recognize that the blame is not technology or information or who is doing the shovelling, but rather it is our inability to discern, only then, will it be the beginning of a resolve.

The ability to discern is the new adaptive skill that needs to be honed, to survive in this changed world.

Thank you +Jeffrey J Davis for the greatly appreciated help with the edits.

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Riding the Learning Curve

Meet Fred, he is 81 years old and has been kiteboarding for 11 years.

Kiteboarding is a beautiful sport, gliding with the wind, water and skies. It looks effortless and natural. Kiteboarding is one of the few sports that is inclusive to all, regardless of age, gender, size, weight or strength. A strong force like the wind, learning to deal with it doesn’t take strength, it takes understanding and perseverance.

Perseverance is the ability to keep going, especially when facing a struggle, the gain is in trying. The secret to perseverance is understanding the learning curve. The learning curve represents the progress people make when learning anything new. As you gain experience, you increase your learning but along this curve, there are dips, when you don’t feel you are making progress. At this point, it is when most people give up. But if you persevere and get pass these dips, the learning moves upward and onward.

It is that determination, fortitude and strength of resolve that produces mettle in a person’s character.

The human spirit is mysterious, we don’t see it, we recognize it and we feel it; and it is the commonality we have with each other. The physiology of the human spirit is an understanding, a strive toward something more that results in a sense of peace and presence.

Fred embodies this spirit. I was told I had to go meet Fred at the beach from the guys working at the surf shop. They revere him, and as soon as I met him, I understood why. He knows everyone and everyone knows him. He had a wide smile and words of encourage for everyone.

Fred started to learn kiteboarding at 70 years old. He rides his bike to the beach with his gear sometimes. After a session out kiteboarding in 45 km/h winds, Fred came back to shore and was asking the others for advice about his turns, he was trying to improve. He had just recently finished his chemotherapy.

Fred in action:

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Thinking…Ugh, it's so hard!
In a series of lectures on The Hindrances to Good Citizenship given by James Bryce at Yale University in 1909, he said that the unwillingness of people to think is a real danger to democracy. James Bryce was a British historian, diplomat and ambassador to t...

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Eye can’t be Trusted and Your Brain is a Liar
No matter the age, people are always surprised, delighted and fascinated with optical illusions. It is a game your eyes are playing with your mind. It challenges our default thinking that what we see is real. How and what we see is a complicated process mos...

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Capturing Change
Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renior were friends,
thirty-somethings, and were struggling ambitious artists. La Grenouillère was a popular spa resort just west of Paris, together there, Renior and Monet painted. The year was 1896, revolution and machine m...

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Spark By Reason
He was a man with a scrawny physical presence, but Immanuel Kant was Mr. Personality. Filled with thoughts and ideas, wit and humour, joy and cheerfulness, his lectures were standing room only, not just to students but to the public. He was a rock star and ...

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Mao Women
Propaganda art is used to educate, to change behaviour and thought. The People’s Republic was established in 1949 and propaganda art was a major means to express abstract ideas and to visualize political messages. Mao Zedong is a controversial figure in his...

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Makeup of A Woman
German painter Otto Dix (1891 – 1969) was best-known for his gruesome war paintings of indescribable horrors. He also painted portraits that captured a sense of the unreal, an unexpected exaggeration that gave the depiction forthrightness. Monocles are usua...

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One Too Many

A few years ago in Ontario, Canada, a couple pregnant with twins decided to “reduce” their pregnancy to a single fetus. Already with a one year old, their reason was that three children would adversely affect their work-life balance.

Their family doctor attempted to convince them not to “reduce” their multiple pregnancy but they found a Canadian clinic that would do the procedure.

Selective reduction of multiple pregnancies is becoming more common with the success of in vitro fertilization (IVF). The procedure involves hormonally inducing the woman to produce multiple eggs rather than one per month.  The multiple eggs are then fertilized with sperm in the laboratory. Once the embryo or embryos are formed, they are then placed in the uterus.

To increase the chances of pregnancy, on average, three embryos are transferred at a time. Along with the increase chances of pregnancy, implanting multiple embryos also increases the chances of health risks for both the mother and the babies.

The fetal reduction is done through the belly, a transabdominal procedure. Ultrasound is used to guide a needle to the selected fetus, the doctor then injects a potassium chloride solution, which stops the fetal heart.

No surprise that this opens up moral and ethical questions. For some, it may be the destruction of a healthy fetus. For others, it may be the horror of the choice of which fetus. Still others, it may be the shock of women going through IVF to produce a baby then following up with an abortion.

A medical code of ethics has existed since the 1700’s but with the dramatic changes in medical research the past sixty years, medical ethics has not been able to keep up with the speed of medical advances.

Bioethics emerged to define the roles and responsibilities of health professionals and the public, as ethical questions arise from the rapid advances of medical sciences.

The controversial topics include abortion, sex selection of embryos, genetic enhancement, stem-cell research, and much more.

Some of the difficult questions are: Is a fetus a person? Does a fetus have rights? Is a frozen embryo a person? How do we define “benefit” and “harm”? Must doctors always save life? Is it humane for them to end life? Does a woman have total right to what happens in her body?

Selective reduction of the Canadian couple’s twin pregnancy employed medical means for nonmedical ends; ends unrelated to better health. The question is, are reproductive technologies an instrument of improvement or of consumer choice.

Moral outlook change with time and society falls into moral panics. Medical advances much faster than moral understanding. We need to respond thoughtfully, to think and to question.

The greatest question of our time is how to manage the power and promise of biomedical advances, without compromising our humanity.

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Working Hard to Hardly Working

Robotification, is a word. It means work normally performed by humans are replaced with mechanical or electronic machines. As in, we’re getting robotified out of a job.

For decades, robots have been quietly moving into factories, offices, hospitals, military services and outer space. The progress has been very gradual, but suddenly, robotics is heating up. We are at the inflection point, the turning point on a curve where change picks up speed.

It is predicted that robots will take over 30% of our jobs in the next 10 years. 

Robots are already here, look around, many of the jobs that were once done by humans are now performed by machines. The Automated Teller Machine (ATM) replaced bank tellers; airport self check-in kiosks; grocery store self check-out; factory robotic arms.

Robots and machines are good workers, they work fast and precise, they don’t make mistakes, they don’t get tired and cost much less than the minimum wage. Repetitive tasks done continuously and tirelessly are the key features of their résumé. They work better, longer, faster and cheaper.

In the past, machines were mechanical muscle; the new robots are mechanical minds built by engineers and programmers. Robotics fall roughly into six categories: manufacturing, military defence, space exploration, medical surgery, research and personal service.

Automation and robots will replace workers from all sectors. The self-driving cars or Autos will replace truck drivers, bus drivers or harvester drivers; accountants and some lawyers will be substituted by software; Watson the doctor bot is predicted to be the best doctor in the world, making evidence-based correlations for medical diagnosis.

With the sweeping changes to a displaced workforce, a society in which machines are doing more and humans less, the question is how are we going to adjust to a world without work. 

Work and money are two entities that drive our economic societies and many see it in a very extrinsic way. A different approach would be to consider their intrinsic qualities.
Money is a paradox, it can buy many things but not the things worth having. Money can buy education but not intelligence; medical care but not health; clothes but not style; house but not a home; sex but not love. Money cannot buy purpose, respect or integrity.

Work has an important intrinsic value for many.

Work is the vehicle through which we fit into the world, to develop our identity and sense of belonging.

Working is vital for human beings, it is an instinct to want to be a valued, useful and a contributing member of the tribe. Meaningful work helps develop our well-being, a sense of identity and worth.

For the 15% science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workers, the future looks bright, their skills augment the intelligent machines. For the others there will be less employment.
The concern is a polarising, divided society. A demand for high-skill workers and a rise in the service industry of lower-paid work that is hard to automate. 

How we educate has to change, preparing the student for the real world doesn’t apply anymore, upon graduation, in that time it takes to earn a degree, a robot has taken their job. Competing with a robot is not an option, we need to prepare university students to do things robots cannot; to learn to be more human.

For those who can combine critical analytical thinking with creativity, that person will always be needed, anywhere.

People will find their way, human beings always do.
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