Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Kai Wright on Elusive Objectivity

Kai Wright of discusses how to effectively take action and respond to information online. Wright asks: Whose truth matters? What are the boundaries of this truth? How do we broaden the world of facts? How do we use participatory media to broaden the set of facts we consider and to hear other voices?
There is a universe of facts. That universe can be partitioned into those that are freely available, those that are available with various amounts of work, and those that are hidden (but might be made available through non-traditional means -- thus the media discovered the facts of Watergate through relatively unconventional means of investigative journalism).

Attending to a specific subset of facts will tend to lead to one kind of forecast or conclusion, while attending to a different set of facts will tend to lead to quite different forecasts or conclusions. As Wright suggests, most people in the United States attending to only the facts of their own jobs and household finances might think the country is doing fine, while others attending to the statistics on unemployment, mortgage foreclosures, etc. might think the country is in a Great Recession.

Too often we attend to only those facts that tend to support the conclusions we want to hold. Indeed, too often we fail to attend to facts that seem unimportant to us, but will come to bite us in the end.

How then do we scan the universe of facts to assure that we don't miss groups of facts that would be important to us? Perhaps one way is to be somewhat conscious of our various rolls in life. As an individual perhaps I have a responsibility to scan facts related to my health. As a family man, perhaps I have a responsibility to scan facts related to family welfare. As an investor, perhaps I have a responsibility to scan facts related to my investments. Other responsibilities might relate to rolls as a voter, as an employee, as a member of the human race, etc.

I suspect that a form of literacy is the ability to identify the sets of facts to which one should attend for a given purpose. Knowing to get a doctor's advice on which facts to attend to with respect to disease diagnosis and curative medicine is one form of literacy, but perhaps a different guide might be better for identifying facts to which to attend related to a healthy life style.

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