Friday, January 27, 2012
I have touched on the idea of acquiring information before. The reason I am going into it again is because I have been running into people periodically who have no idea concerning how they acquire information. I am going to postulate there are 4 levels of information.
1. First hand information. Your were there and observed. You are part of the insiders doing the investigation, doing the research, collecting the data, part of the experts doing the investigation.
The problem is, for most of us, we don’t have very much first hand information. For the most part, this kind of information is highly specialized and for the people involved in it the information collected is kept discrete and without relationship to other specializations. We aren’t doing the research on global warming, on the depletion of resources or the goings on in our government or much of anything else. We depend, for the most part on other sources of information. First hand information includes; this is what I saw; this is what I heard; this is the results (data) of my experiments. And, of course, if the experimenter and data collector have an agenda, this information can be heavily skewed. Even in the case of observed event, the observer can completely misinterpret and misunderstand what was observed. That is why first person witness testimony in jury trials is not absolutely dependable.
2. Second hand information. This is reported to us, through various means, from people that study the first hand information. If they are good at it, they give us the facts and nothing but the facts about the area of study they are reporting on. Reliability of the informant is key here.
The problem here is that way too often, this second hand information is clouded up with opinion and projected inferences of the data they are reporting on. Also, often agendas also interfere with this kind of reporting. Good second hand information gives you the facts of the case and allows you to draw your own conclusions.
3. Third hand information. This takes the form of quoting and interpreting what #2 reported on #1 information source.
This form in information starts to rely heavily on opinion about #1 information. It will often morph in unsubstantiated conclusions and even misinformation. Often this form of information is just pure gossip with little to no relationship to the facts. Listen to Rush Limbaugh.
4. Fourth hand information. This is where propaganda, spin and deliberate misinformation take place. This information takes all of the above sources and often utilizes them for an agenda. Again, listen to the Rush Limbaugh rants.
We are exposed to this form of information constantly in the popular media, the internet, and the rumor mill. Even those groups and individual that are sincere in providing us information have an agenda. Nothing wrong with having an agenda and putting out information to support the agenda. But the two need to be separated by the recipient. I suspect that often the reporter from this source doesn’t even know they are not being completely factual and thus draw conclusions that do not stand up to examination.
The inadvertent inaccurate transmission of information is legendary. Remember the school day experiment of sitting in a circle and starting a statement and have it whispered to each person down the line? By the end of the line, it hasn’t much relationship to what the original information was about.
All of the above sources of information can be factual and well analyzed or misleading or contain only half-truths or in some cases out right lies. I have been getting into to the practice of asking for sources from people that assert information that doesn’t sound right to me, and even when it does sound right. This is why it takes so much effort and time to try and determine what the truth of any situation/issue that I am not directly involved with, which are most issues.
I think we are all guilty of rather indiscriminant use of these sources without realizing it. We rely on experts and people involved for our information that may not be reliable at all. We also rely on people that supposedly spend time analyzing all 4 information sources to give us a synopsis of what they found. The difficulty comes with conclusions, projections/consequences and assumptions of the findings.
I have found over the years that most of the information coming from government people to be unreliable, usually contains half-truths and very often out right lies. It shows up today in bold print when the government economists issue pronouncements on the economy or when the president issues statements on the state of the union.
I often question just what is our advantage in acquiring accurate information. The internet today is full of enough information that no man can digest it all. My oft-repeated mantra is that I want accurate information to give me an idea of which way to duck to soften the blows I perceive coming my way. So far, the sources I have used to determine this have worked out pretty well for us in planning our next moves. How’s it working out for you?
The disappointing aspect of all this is that nothing substantial has changed. The information is out there to be acquired and acted upon. The totality of information I have indicates that our social contract is being very rapidly torn apart, we are progressing toward a totalitarian fascist state, our environment is being poisoned to an alarming extent, our society is consumed by greed, our eco systems are being destroyed, the worlds raw materials are finite and being squandered on superfluous bull shit and outside of a very small minority of folks, nobody gives a damn and no changes are taking place that will stop or reverse these directions.
Large-scale social change takes time and a huge amount of energy input, unfortunately. Humans are not very amenable to change, particularly if it is to their personal short-term disadvantage. If my conclusions have validity, then the question arises as to whether we have reached a tipping point and no action can possibly change the direction we are headed. I suppose that if there was sufficient collective will, it could happen but it sure doesn’t appear to me that is on the horizon. Our social momentum is too strong.
It sure would be interesting to me to know what the future historians (if there are any) had to say about our present period of history.