News, Fake News and Not News

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Recently we were thinking about the news. What makes news? Then there is the discussion about fake news. At Wikipedia we found a page that is about Fake news websites: “Fake news websites (also referred to as hoax news, deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation purporting to be real news — often using social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect.Unlike news satire, fake news websites seek to mislead, rather than entertain, readers for financial, political, or other gain”.

But what about news that is “left out“, as we formulated in one of our blog posts?

“One can safely assume that any information you are presented with has some relevant information “Left Out”. The originator’s perspective, the logic bubble in which he perceives the world and how the information is applied are some possible reasons for the missing information”.

We can also safely assume that editors of media do “leave-out” news, in good faith. However, there could be some doubt about, as Naomi Chomsky pointed out in “Manufacturing Consent“:

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“The mass communication media of the U.S. are effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function, by reliance on market forces, internalised assumptions, and self-censorship, and without overt coercion”

That raises the question if there exists a keyword “Not News” in Google. Could we find “left-out”news in Google? We got only one hit:

Project Censored – The News That Didn’t Make The News and Why is a well researched website featuring the Top Censored Stories of 2015–2016: Covering up police violence by manipulation Wikipedia pages, violations of the Freedom of Information Act, compensations for vaccine injured families, big pharma lobbying, internet surveillance, FBI spying on rebellion at high schools, and lots of other disturbing news not mentioned in the mainstream media.

Admittedly, it’s all in America, but would it be different elsewhere? We earlier described the mechanisms that explain why disturbing news is not published by the mean stream media (See Press Patterns).

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By the way, in addition to “Manufacturing Consent”, we came across an interesting essay about “Manufacturing Normality”. Nowadays political dissent is stigmatised as aberrant or “abnormal” behaviour, as opposed to a position meriting discussion. Political distinctions like “left” and “right” are disappearing, and are being replaced by imponderable distinctions like “normal” and “abnormal,” “true” and “false,” and “real” and “fake.”.

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Cold Cases –

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What could we learn from solved cold cases? What has caused that the case is solved after years of investigations without results? What were the reasons that a solution was waiting for discovery, but never did? Solved cold cases are illustrative for how we think wrongly.

In September 1961, 25-year-old Lucy Johnson, mother of one, was at her home in Surrey, British Colombia. She was not seen the next day. Or the next. Or for the next 52 years.
For one reason or another, Lucy was not reported missing until four years later. Obviously, this raised questions, and suspicion fell on her husband Marvin. Police even dug up the husband’s backyard in search of a body, but they found nothing. Decades passed, Marvin died, and there seemed no hope of solving the case.

 

According to Wikipedia, a cold case is a crime or an accident that has not yet been fully solved and is not the subject of a recent criminal investigation, but for which new information could emerge from new witness testimony, re-examined archives, new or retained material evidence, as well as fresh activities of the suspect.

However, it is not always new and fresh information that helps to solve the case, but new perceptions. Even new information tends to be interpreted in old perceptions. Information is not perception.

Lucy’s daughter Linda, a small child at the time of her mother’s vanishing posted ads in newspapers and other media outlets in search of clues. Then in 2013, she received a phone call. The woman on the other end of the line claimed to be Linda’s stepsister, whom she’d never known existed. The woman said their mother Lucy was alive and well, living with a whole new family in the Yukon.

 

Sometimes a viable suspect has been overlooked or simply ignored due to then-flimsy circumstantial evidence, the presence of a likelier suspect (who is later proven to be innocent), or a tendency of investigators to zoom in on someone else to the exclusion of other possibilities (which goes back to the likelier suspect angle)—known as “tunnel vision”

However unbelievable the claim sounded, Linda followed up it. Sure enough, her mother was not the victim of foul play as suspected. She’d simply fled to another life. Marvin had abused her, claimed Lucy, and when she’d tried to leave with her daughter, he’d stopped her. So she just took off on her own.

 

In our view, solved cold cases are excellent vehicles to study thinking methods, as what students and scientists are supposed to do at the  Thinkibility University. At its East Wing they are excellent in Reverse Engineering of Thinking Strategies we wrote earlier about.

When Linda visited the caller to check whether the woman in question was indeed her Laura, she recognized her mother immediately.

 

The people working there are not trained as criminal investigators but will use systematic and deliberate creative thinking techniques. Not only to improve forensic investigations but improving thinking methods in general. For scientific research as well for daily practical thinking.

As you might notice in the following mind map, little attention is given to the role of perception in this example of a  Crime Scene Investigator Job Description:

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The following books could be good starting points to be studied by the East Wing:

Solving cold cases happen when limiting thoughts and behaviors are challenged.

But how to challenge “limiting thoughts and behaviours”?

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Group Obedience

Have you ever stopped yourself from speaking up at a meeting because you felt that the idea or suggestion would not be appreciated or ridiculed? Groupthink is a phenomenon where the desire for group cohesiveness and a quick decision cloud the judgment of the people in the group. The decision taken is often less than ideal. Consequently, identifying warning signs of groupthink is vital. 

images (1)Bay of Pigs was a plan that many knew in advance would fail. Yet the American President J.F. Kennedy went ahead with the plans to try to invade Cuba despite the fact that several of the general knew that the plan would backfire.

Another example is the Challenger explosion, which was a disaster that occurred in 1986 where seven people died. Engineers of the space shuttle knew about some faulty parts months before takeoff, yet the signs were ignored to avoid negative press and the shuttle was launched. 

imagesFeelings of unanimity and morality within the group lead to the members thinking that everyone agrees. Members of the group may be afraid of controversy and there may be a pressure to conform to the group’s decision. In some cases, there is a pressure to make a quick decision and the group may work with incomplete information. This may result in an idea that is not balanced. Or it may result in a family going to Abilene despite the fact that no one wants to go. ScreenShot2012-01-27at115851AM

The Abilene Paradox was coined by Jerry B. Harvey, and author of “The Abilene Paradox and Other Meditations on Management”. 

There are a number of ways to avoid groupthink such as finding negative points and risks with an idea (see Thinkibility – Positive & Negative). Asking members outside the group to look at the idea is another way to reduce the effects of groupthink. 

Learning how to spot groupthink is vital. Signs of groupthink are a strong leader, high level of group cohesion and pressure from the outside to make a good decision.

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Pressure of a moral character is difficult to deal with. For example, the suggestion that an idea is better because it is more moral is challenging and difficult to resist since no one wants to be seen as less moral or immoral. Suggestions such as “We all know right from wrong, and this is right” are emotionally difficult to deal with. 

A company should have a Plan B or a contingency plan to minimise risks related to groupthinkThe emotional consequences of groupthink can leave many of the members feeling disillusioned and dissatisfied. Enthusiasm can fade if you feel that you do not support a decision that has been taken by the group.  

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Creating a healthy group working environment helps to ensure that the group makes good decisions. Nominal Group Technique focuses on members independently  nominating priority issues, on a scale of, for example, 1 to 5.

 

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Another method that could be used is the Delphi method. This method helps to structure the communication to ensure that consensus is achieved. Thus these methods try to prevent and minimise the impact of Groupthink.

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It is called Delphi because some researchers assumed that the forecasts by the priests of the Delphi oracle basically were compilations of information the visitors from all over the known world brought in themselves.

Basically, it is not the best strategy to strive for consensus, but for dissent.

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So encourage disagreement, difference of opinion, argument, dispute, disapproval, objection and protest over constructing consent and majority rule.

See also our earlier posts:

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World’s Most Interesting Reversals (2) – Thinkibility Boost

As a follow-up of an earlier post about Reversals, we present here some more examples. A Reversal reverses the usual sequence or direction of doing something. For instance: Normally a product is delivered after the customer places the order. A Reversal could be that the customer places the order after the product is delivered. What ideas may come out of this turn? Also this time, some examples we derived from This Explains Everything, a 150 of the most surprising stories and brilliant theories of the way our minds, societies and universe work.

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 A good and fast way to crank out some new ideas is to reverse them.

Reversals are also known as Assumptions Reversals. It is a powerful thinking strategy that could lead to some interesting ideas and new concepts because they provoke the conventional way of thinking and challenges generally accepted wisdom. Out of an excessive interest we have collected some most stunning examples.

  • In many conversations it is conveniently assumed that a company, the government or another institution is one and the same actor, and it’s actions are interpreted as that from a real human who behaves rationally. That is to say, the actor examines a set of goals, evaluates them according to their utility, then picks the one that has the highest “payoff.” 

A Reversal could be that behavior of organisations could be interpreted as a result of negotiating processes between parts of an organization (“Governmental Politics“) or as standardized and automatic outcomes of Organizational Procedures and/or routines.

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  • Normally, companies pay for advertisements directed on broad defined target groups in advance and regardless weather they are read or not.

GoogleAds has this reversed. A company pays only for an advertisement if it is actually read by a prospective client. Many new business models are based on Reversals. One such a Reversal is that the receiver of the product/service don’t pay for it, but that it is paid for by a third party.

  • Many people believe that higher education of the population, science and availability of medical services are responsible for lower infant mortality and longer life.

It is not. Safe drinking water and sewage treatment plants have been instrumental in improving health.

  • Heliocentrism – the astronomical model in which the Earth and planets revolve around a relatively stationary Sun at the center of the Solar System- is the Reversal of the Geocentrism -a description of the cosmos where Earth is at the orbital center of all celestial bodies.
  • Before 1982, conventional thinking was that no bacterium can live in the human stomach, as the stomach produced extensive amounts of acid of a strength similar to the acid found in a car battery.

Marshall and Warren rewrote the textbooks with reference to what causes gastritis and gastric ulcers: a bacterium with affinity for acidic environments: the Helicobacter pylori. In hindsight, it is amazing that already in 1875 it is hypothesized that ulcers are caused by bacteria. The timeline of the discovery illustrates how much effort it takes to become mainstream knowledge,

A Reversal is that cities are the primary drivers of economic development, as Jane Jacobs has put forward,

  • In psychoanalysis conflicts between conscious and unconscious, or repressed, material can materialize in the form of mental or emotional disturbances, for example: neurosis, neurotic traits, anxiety, depression etc. Solving repressed conflicts by talking and freely associating would lead to reduced symptoms of emotional disturbance.

However, Aaron Beck reversed this approach by hypothesizing that different disorders were associated with different types of distorted thinking. By helping patients identify and evaluate these thoughts, patients were able to think more realistically, which led them to feel better emotionally and behave more functionally. This Reversal initiated Cognitive Behavioral Therapies. He began helping patients identify and evaluate these thoughts and found that by doing so, patients were able to think more realistically, which led them to feel better emotionally and behave more functionally.

  • Ha-Joon Chang suggests in 23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism twenty-three Reversals of theories and empirical facts that are accepted by most professionals that cloud our financial institutions like “there is no such thing as a free market”, “we do not live in a post-industrial age”, “Africa is not destined for underdevelopment”, “despite the fall of communism, we are still living in planned economies” and “More education in itself is not going to make a country richer“.

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The future is often a reverse of the assumptions of the present.

World’s Most Interesting Reversals (1) – Thinkibility Boost

In a Reversal the usual supposed cause-effect relation between objects or subjects are turned upside down. For example, it is supposed that the establishment of a permanent observation post increases the safety of recreational sailing. A Reversal could set up that the establishment of a permanent observational post rightly effective decreases the safety of sailors. The Reversal set up could lead to the idea that permanent observation gives sailors a misplaced feeling of safety, and also that observation can only timely detect sailors in difficulties, but doesn’t prevent accidents, nor solve them if happened.

  • Reversals are applied to create opportunities to escape from patterns.
  • Carefully designed Reversals are excellent thinking strategies in attempting alternative explanations for phenomenon in medical science, sociology and psychology.

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One uncommon, unique and different arrow goes in the opposite direction of the rest of the group, symbolizing unusual nature, being a rebel or innovating with creative thinking.

As a somewhat weird hobby we collected some Reversals. Some will be known to you, some will astonish or even upset you. Many “collectors items” we gratefully derived from This Explains Everything -155 thinkers about the most elegant insights all time.

  • The idea that team building can be stimulated by organizing a party with a lot of talk, fun, good food and drinks is totally wrong

Team spirit will evoke by successfully attaining goals in “weathering tests”. That teams after their trials exuberantly would party is wrongly interpreted as a condition for team spirit. Team  members will  become supportive only after overcoming an obstacle.

  • We have a certain impression that important decisions in one’s life are taken consciously.

However, biologic research shows that important decisions are taken unconsciously, but that nevertheless our brains invent acceptable explanations regarding the token decisions (Terrence J. Sejnowski). Also, people don’t behave in a way because they are so-and-so, but make conclusions about what they are by observing their own behavior (Timothy D. Wilson). Traditionally, psychological problems come from the inner part of the clients. However, self-perception theory perspective suggests that people derive their inner feelings or abilities from their external behaviors. We don’t do who we are, but we are what we do.

  • In what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls “lucretan underestimation” current risk assesment methodologies are based on the worst event ever happened (the worst recession, the cruelest war, the worst unemployment rates), not on what could happen.

He argues that nature looks forward by anticipating to what perhaps would happen, by reserving extra capacity and building up strength. Redundancy is therefore not a defensive approach. See also the three earlier blog post about building robustness in systems here.

  • Placebo’s – sugar pills with no effective medical working – are thought to have no influence on the body at all.

Sometimes patients given a placebo treatment will have a perceived or actual improvement in a medical condition, a phenomenon commonly called the placebo effect. Eric J. Topol suggests to use “placebo medication” as a therapy.

Two people are often less effective than one single person. The merely presence of some other beings prevent a single person are often than not to take adequate action in a situation.

Another examples of the inadequacy of “More Is Better” : “More ideas are better”. Actually, many inferior ideas will not even one really innovative idea. “More hands are better”: Many organisations try to solve problems by adding more resources (time, budget, workers, overseers), while fundamental redesign of the work processes could solve the problem. Often problems are solved by reducing the people involved.”Bigger is Better” or “Economies of Scale“: Many mergers, intended to improve efficiency and to reduce running costs, actually become counter productive.

  • Normally it is assumed that romantic harmony between couples is the standard with the aim of copulating is the joint reproduction of offspring.

Huge conflicts between spouses are regarded as signs of dysfunction. However, David Buss posits a radical reformulation in a theory about sexual conflict: Sexual conflict or sexual antagonism occurs when the two sexes have conflicting optimal fitness strategies concerning reproduction, particularly over the mode and frequency of mating, potentially leading to an evolutionary arms race between males and females.

  • “Dirt is not dirt, but only matter in the wrong place.” is another example of an Reversal which ensures that we will continue to question conventions.
  • Some models of human behavior in the social sciences and many economics models assume that people are on average rational, and can in large enough quantities be approximated to act according to their preferences.

The concept of bounded rationality by Herbert Simon reverses this assumption to account for the fact that perfectly rational decisions are often not feasible in practice because of the finite computational resources available for making them. Humans are not rational actors but satisficing: the idea that in decision-making, rationality of individuals is limited by the information they have, the cognitive limitations of their minds, and the finite amount of time they have to make a decision.

  • The idea that “there is a someone in my head” or ” some part of my head is responsible for …” is debated by David Eagleman.

In “Incognito. The Secret Lives of the Brain” he suggests that the brain contains divers and overlapping ways to handle the world. There are a lot of “someones” in our head, a representative democracy that functions due to competition between the brain parts of which we are not conscious at all. As such, the brain is subject to neural conflicts.

  • Throughout centuries,  it has been assumed that a perceived object doesn’t change under influence of an observer.

However, quantum physics, psychology and sociology has shown that this is not true. To expand this concept it is suggested that biology is the science about behavior of biologists, physics the science about behavior of physicists. This is a Reversal of empiricism, a theory of knowledge which states that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience. Another Reversal of empiricism is the statement that perception without a theory is not possible. Theories like ideas, hypothesis, perspectives, perceptions, assumptions, etc. do have an important and fundamental role to acquire and enhance knowledge. Any observation takes place against the background of a theory, consciously or not. So called “Evidence-based Policy” is then more it’s Reversal: “Policy based Evidence”.

  • Most software applications are designed to assist us with thinking tasks.

But in reverse, in the “Computional Brain” computer models constrained by neurobiological data can help reveal how – networks of neurons subserve perception and behavior – how their physical interactions can yield global results in perception and behavior, and how their physical properties are used to code information and compute solutions.

A last Reversion, to reflect on: To get a good idea the standard approach is to search for better ideas. A reversed approach is to get rid of a bad idea. Doing so helps to suppress simple, obvious but not effective attempts whereby a better solution can arise.

figure_ground_reversal_by_mystiedo-d5yo2zzIn a following blog post we will continue with some World’s Most Interesting Reversals. In the meantime, you are invited to subscribe to our blog.

Observe The Thinking – Use Thinking Vocabular

Part 2

For this Thinkibility Boost we invite you to reflect on an insight we recently got.

While we are at the brink of being locked into a possible World War III, it is amazing and baffling that neither opinion-leaders nor commentators in the media regardless their positions, opinions or views on the conflict in Syria, analyze the thinking of the parties and persons involved.

What are the statements being made?

By whom are they made?

What are the arguments?

What are or could be the hidden value and factual assumptions?

What evidences for the reasoning are put in?

We have nowhere came across in newspapers or commentaries on TV the use of concepts that describe the thinking or the use of some kind of  a  “thinking vocabulary”, like terms as

and many others, as for example suggested by Kahneman.

Kahneman concludes that we have developed poor tools and that we are missing a vocabulary to think and to communicate about our thinking. In Thinking, Fast and Slow, he shows us some some hilarious examples of this Thinking Vocabulary. See also our blog post  Reasoning and Intuition.

Pearl Harbor, the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis are only a few examples that showed poor thinking with disastrous results. There are also more recent but not yet studied cases of blundering into human, political and military disasters.

There are lots of analysis: political, economical, strategic and even ethical. However, it is disappointing that nobody –  laymen, thinkers, researchers in decision theory, philosophers or  scholars in group processes- points to the kind of  thinking that is used by the main actors.

However, we found one exception in a paper by George Lakoff  in which he indicates the framing and the use of several metaphors in discussions  to justify a war against Syria.: “Obama Re-frames Syria: Metaphor and War Revisited.

We need more Thinking Observers of this kind.

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Distorted Logic Bubbles

In an interesting article from McKinsey Quarterly Charles Roxburgh explains why good executives back bad strategies.

In an earlier blog post  we introduced the concept of the “Logic Bubble”. Edward de Bono

used  the term to describe the set of values, needs, beliefs and experiences that a person sees the world through. We all have a logic bubble and we make choices and behave in ways that are consistent with our logic bubble. Implicitly it is assumed that the brain act rationally on the basis of the logic within the bounded perception space.

However, already in the fifties of the last century HerbertSimon proposed the concept of bounded rationality – the idea that in decision-making, rationality of individuals is limited by the information they have, the cognitive limitations of their minds, and the finite amount of time they have to make a decision. The boundaries of perception could be somewhat distorted. Roxburgh mentions eight flaws he derives from behavioral economicswhich studies the effects of social, cognitive, and emotional factors on the economic decisions of individuals and institutions as opposed to the paradigm that humans make economic decisions rationally.

1. Overconfidence : The overconfidence effect is a well-established bias in which someone’s subjective confidence in their judgments is reliably greater than their objective accuracy, especially when confidence is relatively high.

2. Mental Accounting : mental accounting attempts to describe the process whereby people code, categorize and evaluate economic outcomes. An example of mental accounting is creating new categories of spending like “strategic investment”.

3.The Status Quo Bias : Status quo bias is a cognitive bias; an irrational preference for the current state of affairs. Status quo bias interacts with other non-rational cognitive processes such as loss aversion, existence bias, endowment effect, longevity, mere exposure, and regret avoidance.

4. Anchoring : anchoring or focal-ism is a cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily, or “anchor,” on one trait or piece of information when making decisions. During normal decision making, anchoring occurs when individuals overly rely on a specific piece of information to govern their thought process. Once the anchor is set, there is a bias toward adjusting or interpreting other information to reflect the “anchored” information.

5. The Sunk Cost Effect : sunk costs are past costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered. Sunk costs do, in fact, influence actors’ decisions because humans are prone to loss-averse and framing effects, and in light of such cognitive quirks, it is unsurprising that people frequently fail to behave in ways that economists would deem “rational.”

6. The Herding Instinct : herd behavior describes how individuals in a group can act together without planned direction. The term pertains to the behavior of animals in herds, flocks and schools, and to human conduct during activities such as stock market bubbles and crashes, street demonstrations, sporting events, religious gatherings, episodes of mob violence and everyday decision-making, judgment and opinion-forming.

7. Misestimating Future Hedoninistic States : hedonistic forecasting is the prediction of one’s emotional state in the future. People are surprisingly poor judges of their future emotional states. For example, in predicting how events like winning the lottery might affect their happiness, people are likely to overestimate future positive feelings, ignoring the numerous other factors that might contribute to their emotional state outside of the single lottery event.

8. False Consensus : the false-consensus effect is a cognitive bias whereby a person tends to overestimate how much other people agree with him or her. There is a tendency for people to assume that their own opinions, beliefs, preferences, values and habits are ‘normal’ and that others also think the same way that they do. This cognitive bias tends to lead to the perception of a consensus that does not exist, a ‘false consensus’. This false consensus is significant because it increases self esteem. The need to be “normal” and fit in with other people is underlined by a desire to conform and be liked by others in a social environment. Causes might be confirmation bias, selective recall, biased evaluation and group-think.

In his article Roxburgh give some hints to lessen distortions of perception. Also, there aresome excellent references given.

Photo:  “White Doors In The Sky” by nattavut