It seems like any information you could possibly want to find out is available somewhere these days. We are so connected by beams and wires and electronics and technology that nothing seems impossible. However, this does have a downside. Information is dangerous. I’d argue that misinformation, which seems even more widely available than correct information sometimes, is even more dangerous. Power corrupts, as they say, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And those who have power over what information is and is not disseminated often do so with their own personal interests in mind, presenting opinion as fact, or worse, deliberately leaving fact out of it altogether.
Witness, for instance, immediate news reports. Often, when something big happens, especially a crime, the information first dispersed is more often than not incorrect in some way, shape, or form, including simply being incomplete. (In my opinion, incompleteness in this case is incorrect.) While this is not an anomaly in and of itself, it is confusing to those trying to understand how to respond to the incident, and tying the area up with reporters helps nothing and, I’d argue, hinders a lot. What is this even for? Emergency responders know well enough how to caution people to stay out of the area, so why should reporters get a pass? Ratings? Money? Those seem like pretty poor reasons to me, especially when a person has perpetrated a crime. The criminal usually gets their 15 minutes of fame and more, which helps nothing and serves only to glamorize crime. Meanwhile, any victims are either ignored or have questions shoved at them that most can’t handle at the moment. Do we need to know the important points? Yes. But one important point in any sort of emergency is (without fail, as far as I know) STAY OUT OF THE AREA. Let the responders do their work, and you can report in more depth afterward.
Politics is an offshoot of this topic. People are so quick to pounce on one word or phrase that they miss the whole point of a speech. They also fail to take into account that politicians are human, and so they will slip up on a word sometimes. While these people are used to being in the spotlight and should have their topics well-researched beforehand if they can, this isn’t always something that can/does happen, but the world is apparently an unforgiving place. Special interest groups are all too happy to shout down anyone who doesn’t agree with them, and then complain when there are consequences for what they say, as though they don’t understand that the right to free speech does not mean that there are no consequences. I’m one of those people who will defend your right to free speech, even if I disagree with you, but only if you realize that there are consequences to being allowed to say what you want, and that not everyone will be swayed at all by what you say. (And, in a rather more cynical moment, I like to let people stick their feet in their mouths all by themselves.)
Even in the general case, misinformation does tend to lead to attacks (verbal and otherwise) on others, which accomplish nothing in the long run but making people angry with each other. It’s not productive because the point isn’t that there is a correct answer; it’s that someone was wrong and how could they be so stupid and… you get the point. It’s distasteful and sad. We’re more concerned over the fact that someone is misinformed than we are over what the correct information is that we lose sight of that information until someone brings it up, if they ever do.
Sexual biology is another common arena for this phenomenon. I understand the argument that a parent should reserve the right to teach their children about sex in a way that fits with their beliefs, but when middle- and high-schoolers are getting STDs/STIs and getting pregnant and dropping out at some very discouraging rates simply because of what they did not know, something’s gotta give! At least when kids this age were getting pregnant a couple centuries ago, they knew what they were doing was starting a family, and it was done simply because people did not live as long back then. Now that we are living longer, getting childbearing done before we run out of time is not necessary. And there is a wealth of misinformation out there, from what creates a pregnancy to how not to create one in the first place. While a lot of this is probably trolling (I’d hope nobody over the age of about 9 believes holding hands with someone of the opposite biological gender can make you pregnant), it can be hard to distinguish that from those who really believe that their misinformation is true.
I’d like to also take a minute to talk about the scare tactics that are used in a misguided attempt to delay sexual activity. Telling young adults that birth control doesn’t work does not disincline them towards having sex; it just makes them much less likely to use it if/when they do. And telling a rebellious teen that pregnancy will ruin their lives just makes them want to prove you wrong even more. While I never got into that sort of trouble as a teen, I get how wanting to prove the adults wrong and yourself right goes, and it can lead to some really stupid choices. (Also, going back to an earlier post of mine, the prefrontal cortex does not develop fully until the mid-twenties—there are scientific reasons kids are good at making bad choices, so I figure removing as much misinformation that leads them to it, even if only in part, is one of the better things we can do.)
As much as being a jack-of-all-trades is useful, having people who specialize in a certain area is useful, but sadly, in today’s society, being very good at only one or two things is interpreted as “I can’t do anything else”. Add in anonymity to being a jack-of-all-trades, master of none, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for disaster. Someone who thinks they know what they’re talking about simply because they say it in a loud voice without backing it up is not the best choice of person to put in charge. Those who can do their research while remaining at least mostly unbiased are the best picks, but, sadly, because they don’t necessarily align with one popular ideology, they seem wishy-washy, when most elected leaders are chosen based on their ability to please people at what might be the cost of their own comfort or morals. Is the truth uncomfortable? Sometimes, yes. But if you ask me, I’d rather take the truth any day and being able to grow intellectually over having all my opinions and possibly incorrect ideas about how things work reaffirmed.