We all feel somewhat responsible for at least being aware of the news. I’m defining news as the noteworthy events unfolding in the world we all live in. News has also become more accessible, resulting in near instant availability for everyone. Each spare moment is ready to be filled with personalized news or updates from your social network. This deluge of information is wonderful in many ways, but if you fail to apply any tuning, it can reinforce narrow viewpoints and increase your overall stress and anxiety.
News is amplified to grab your attention. Most daily events unfolding in our world aren’t especially shocking, but the news media is constantly digging to find a shocking needle in the mundane haystack. Even when the stories themselves are less exciting, they are usually packaged with a shocking headline to grab your attention. To stay rational, consciously de-amplify.
News is filled with bold and usually dramatic predictions about the future. A rational and accurate judgement about future events requires a more nuanced probability based approach, which isn’t nearly as exciting. Ratings driven media, a public starved for drama, and over-confident pundits form a symbiotic relationship and churn out bold (but usually inaccurate) predictions. To make more accurate predictions, use a Bayesian probability based approach.
We know—from many case studies—that overfitting the most superficially applicable analogy to current problems is a common source of error.
— Expert Political Judgment, Philip Tetlock
If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice this showing up everywhere. Whenever a big news story breaks, the media quickly searches for an applicable analogy from our past. As humans, we have a strong desire to find an analogy between the past to the present, but we unfortunately usually do it haphazardly. We’re much too quick to ignore the subtle but very important differences. Be extra careful not to overfit loosely applied analogies.
Our sources of news usually align closely with our political preferences and our general interests. Unfortunately, if we never read outside these sources, we may end up in a warm bath of self delusion.
- If you’re politically conservative, read the New York Times. If you’re politically liberal, read the Wall Street Journal.
- If you invest in a company, find some critics and follow them. Expose yourself to dissenting opinions.
This isn’t psychologically pleasant. It’s actually very uncomfortable. If you try it, you’ll notice consistent and strong feelings of reluctance. We feel much better when surrounded by affirming friends and opinions. We tend to be dismissive, angry, and discerning when presented with dissonant evidence.
Because it’s unpleasant, it’s even more important to actively seek out disconfirming evidence. Otherwise, you’ll naturally avoid it and end up with a narrow view of the subject.