Without shared facts, we’re sort of … screwed.
As the U.S. deals with the first pandemic in what some are calling the “post-truth era,” there are parallels that can be drawn between the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and the climate crisis.
Personally, at this point, I’ve seen it all:
- Boomers frustrated that their cruise to the islands was canceled
- Parents pulling healthy kids out of school
- Parents sending sick kids to school
- Climate change denial
- Climate change activism
- Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands
- Research and study supporting practically every possible point of view under the sun
- Businesses refusing to take action
- People who believe recycling is bad
- People who carry reusable straws everywhere
- Businesses being very proactive about their response
- People who still buy (and drink out of!) single-use plastic water bottles
The common thread is, we are all so sure that our way of approaching an issue is the only way. We’re not talking to each other or checking our sources. We’re following mandates handed down by supposed “experts.”
Sure, there is a refreshing new discourse going on, on websites like Reddit.
But how do we distinguish between lifelong subject matter experts and smaller groups selling alternative facts and strategic distractions for personal interest, or short-term gain?
Does the media give equal time, weight or consideration to both groups?
Faking leadership and expertise works okay, as long as there’s no urgent need for either one.
But with the coronavirus, things just got a whole lot more urgent. We’re beginning to see that real leadership and subject matter expertise are required for a successful society. When they’re missing, global markets realize it, and make corrections. Even when a percentage of humanity cannot.
The coronavirus is forcing us to wake up to this reality, and to the vacuum of leadership and real expertise at the top. The climate crisis is similar, although may prove slower to unfold.
I believe the groups mobilizing around shared facts, subject matter expertise, and with a real concern for the public good are the ones we should listen to — not the folks day-trading quasi-facts for personal gain.
But how do we tell the difference?
Here are some ways.
1. Who is this person spouting so-called facts?
Sadly, even government and political leaders can be both intentionally misleading — and intentionally misled. Newscasters can be biased, or fed misinformation which is then passed on as fact.
When you hear something, especially if it’s something you passionately agree with, do some research on who is saying it, and why. Are they in a position of power? Where did they get their education? Consider motives and constituents. What is driving their keen interest in the topic?
Global health expert Alanna Shaikh gave a recent TEDx Talk about the coronavirus outbreak and what it can teach us about the epidemics yet to come. I believe she does an excellent example of explaining who she is, and who she is not. Note how she frames the debate, and, despite her considerable expertise, goes into painstaking detail on where her strengths lie. She’s a global health consultant, not an epidemiologist. She focuses on individual, organizational and systemic resilience to health crises.
I also love how she explains her role to followers on Twitter:
In my humble opinion, we need more people whose strength is explaining to speak out on the important issues of our day.
Bottom line: when coverage focuses on how issues affect politicians or corporate executives instead of those directly affected by the issue, consider the motivation behind the story.
2. What is the point-of-view of the publication you’re reading, the news outlet you’re watching, the person you’re listening to?
As we’ve all heard by now, fake news articles outperformed real news on Facebook in the final month leading up to America’s election day.
Televised news often over-relies on “official” (government, corporate and establishment think tank) sources. For instance, the nonprofit media watchdog organization FAIR found that in 40 months of Nightline programming, the most frequent guests were Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, Elliott Abrams, and Jerry Falwell. These folks arguably have pretty strong agendas. Progressive and public interest voices underrepresented.
To portray issues fairly and accurately, media must broaden their spectrum of sources. Otherwise, they serve merely as megaphones for those in power
For any publications you read, don’t neglect to review the “About Us” section for more insight into the publisher, leadership, and mission statement.
3. Quality and timeliness counts
Spelling errors, use of all caps or dramatic punctuation can all signal less-than-top-quality journalism. When you notice this, abort your reading mission. Reputable sources have high proofreading and grammatical standards.
Also, check the date of the story you’re reading. Often, old news is repurposed in new articles with click-worthy headlines — but taken out of context.
Scan whatever you’re reading for differing opinions.
As we’re all aware, bias creeps into even the most respected mainstream news outlets.
If you notice a glaring lack of quotes and contributing sources, particularly on a complex issue, then something is amiss. Credible journalism is fed by fact-gathering, so a lack of research likely means a lack of fact-based information.
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