Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Little Research Goes a Long Way

I usually try to avoid partisan politics on this blog, so please bear with me for a minute...I swear that the following politically-charged rant does tie into my usual musings on Mormonism.

One of my Facebook friends is an older lady I worked with several years ago.  A while after we stopped working together, she found me on Facebook.  Fast forward a few years, and she's basically my best source of maddeningly absurd, frothing-at-the-mouth, right-wing, liberal-hating news.  Every morning she goes online, reads a bunch of awful websites, and then shares a dozen of her favorite links to Facebook.  I don't put much stock in this stuff, but when I come across a headline that makes a particularly shocking claim, I usually follow the link just to make sure it's full of crap.  If some of this stuff is true, I'd definitely want to know about it.

Here's an excellent example from earlier this week:

Immigration continues to be a hotly contested issue in the USA, and if this article was accurate, I felt that I should allow the information contained therein to play a part in shaping my opinion on the subject.  So what the hell.  I clicked on it.

Sweet Jesus.

Rife with bad writing, poor punctuation and baseless accusations, this article has about as much journalistic integrity as the Weekly World News.  Anyone reading it should be able to figure out that it's not a reliable news outlet.  At'd hope so.

Discrediting this story took me about thirty seconds.  I googled Raul Portillo, which was the name the article provided for this illegal immigrant (whose membership in the National Guard is implicitly blamed on Obama) who aided the drug cartels.  There wasn't much, but I found a DOJ statement about it and a far more reputable news item.  And here's what I learned:
  • Portillo was a member of the Arizona Army National Guard long before Obama was elected
  • The crimes in question were committed between 2002 and 2004...during Bush's presidency
  • Nothing indicates that Portillo was an illegal immigrant
  • The photo of the soldier with the eyes covered as though to protect his identity is almost certainly not of anyone named Raul Portillo
There apparently was a guy by that name in the Arizona National Guard who did a lot of shady stuff to help out Mexican drug cartels, but basically nothing else about the article—most notably who was at fault and what the implied time frame was—is true at all.

What I found extremely disheartening was the comment section on Facebook.  It was full of people who hadn't seemed to notice any of the red flags and hadn't bothered to spend those thirty seconds googling:

Apparently, this 75% bogus article is further evidence that the Obama administration has gotten away with too much, that Obama himself is the Antichrist, that he's an idiot, that he's guilty of treason, that he's a liar and a piece of crap and (this last one is possibly my favorite) he was only elected because too many people voted along racial or partisan lines.

Except that Obama has basically nothing to do with this.

That seems fair.

I guess it's a reminder that too many people see what they want to see.  We like to have our deepest convictions confirmed.  We interpret new information in a way that will fuel our preexisting passions.

Personally, I'm terrified of being like that.  I don't ever want to be so sure that everything I believe is correct that I can't be objective about something.  I don't like Mormonism, but I don't want to be so blinded by my anger that I can't admit when the church accomplishes something good and so stubborn in my hatred that I'm willing to believe any slanderous statements against the church without first doing a little rational thinking and a little research.  I don't want to be like these Facebook commenters in any context—political, religious, or even when discussing who's the best character from Firefly.  

This is the laziest kind of bias.  It's confirmation bias on steriods.  It's the easiest way to lie to yourself.  I hope that next time I'm guilty of it, I can catch myself and put a stop to it.

Can't we all be a little more objective?  Don't we owe it to ourselves and to the world to look at as many sides of an issue as we can and to subject our own closely-held beliefs to scrutiny before we speak, before we act, and before we vote?


  1. You make some great points here. Confirmation bias is an easy logical fallacy to fall into. Being raised in the church, I was taught to look for facts supporting my claims and then let the Holy Ghost fill in the rest, totally ignoring anything to the contrary.

    I came across this post a few months ago regarding Book of Mormon DNA. I think it's a great example of what you're talking about.

    Here's the article he quotes:

    You can read these two articles and judge for yourself.

    I'm just still trying to wrap my head around how 24,000 year old bones could exist on the earth when D&C 77 says "This earth has a temporal existence of 7,000 years."

    1. And yes, I know that last statement is an example of confirmation bias.

    2. Ugh, Greg Trimble. I've read enough terrible articles by that guy that I'm sure I have quite a substantial bias against him.

      He takes one facet of that article and parades it around as if there aren't problematic details that are evidence against his position. And then his biggest argument for the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon boils down to something as unscientific, unquantifiable and subjective as "wisdom."

      But then my theory is that Trimble writes his pro-Mormon articles as a slick advertising scheme to build LDS loyalty to his business endeavors, so maybe he's overplaying his confirmation bias on purpose.