We Know Too Many Things That Are Not True

The old adage advises us that the first step toward solving a problem is acknowledging that it exists. I think the danger in our current circumstances isn’t that we know too many things that are not true, but that we don’t know that they aren’t true. People believe what the hear on the internet. Maybe it sounds plausible. It might reinforce their established beliefs and opinions. They honestly hope that it’s true. No one bothers to question things when they’re invested in them being true. No critical thinking or fact checking happens.

“A problem thoroughly understood is always fairly simple. Found your opinions on facts, not prejudices. We know too many things that are not true.”

Charles Kettering, quoted by W. Clements Zinck in Dynamic Work Simplification (1971) 

There is also a ego component to this. Admitting that you’re wrong, or simply stating that you don’t know, is seen as weakness. People honestly believe that it’s better to stick to your guns, even when you’re completely off the mark, than to change your position as new information becomes available.

We Know Too Many Things That Aren’t True

Having an opinion that evolves somehow undermines your credibility, in the eyes of some people. This year alone I’ve seen people trash-talking scientists with “first they said this, now they say that, they don’t know what they’re talking about”. Ugh. Yes, based on available data they drew one conclusion. As they acquired more data, with wider breadth and greater depth, they altered their conclusions to incorporate the additional information. That’s literally how science works.

What’s infuriating is that the critics didn’t believe the scientists the first time, either. They’re just trying to rationalize their decision to dismiss expertise and objective reality. They know what they believe. It’s not true, but they know it.

We know what the problem is. It’s ignorance. We won’t admit it, and we won’t do anything about it. So we’re just going to continue the downward spiral, holding our heads high with pride because we’ve kept our integrity intact.


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2 Replies to “We Know Too Many Things That Are Not True

  1. In teaching students I tell them that they are not only at liberty to, they are actively encouraged to question everything that the read, and not to feel that they cannot challenge anything in a book or paper, never mind the internet. Many of them find this quite a suprising concept!

    Of course, their challenges need to have underlying reasons and counter-argument, some supporting evidence or knowledge… but the very freedom to challage is liberating.

    Sadly there is also the counter-challege of adopting this willingness to change your mind based on the evidence presented… the idiot loudmouths that inhabit the likes of Twitter don’t understand it, and assume that their assessment of your opinions is forever inviably true, that if they think you are wrong about something, that can never change and even that if their original assessment is correct you may not ‘learn better’ and stop being whatever sort of asshat they decided you were.

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