Scientists around the world are cringing, calling the unprecedented tidal wave of misinformation surrounding the COVID 19 virus an “infodemic.” Let’s face it. Humans are bad at spotting fake information and spread it willingly without identifying and vetting sources for accuracy.
Misinformation affects everyone and can be dangerous. Today, COVID 19 inspires a cacophony of false information flooding social media. And people believe. They hit “share.” It begs the question, why do people so readily believe things that aren’t true? Otherwise smart, educated people are equally as guilty of neglecting to deep-source-check information. It’s a human trait. To understand the phenomena, we need to look at the foundation of “belief.” We humans tend to believe things based on at least one of what can be termed, “The Seven Causes of Belief.” Philosopher Walter Kauffman identified seven causes affecting what humans choose to believe. The belief can be any kind, whether religious, political, or any number of ideas. The causes are, in no particular order:
1) Belief by attrition— forced to believe it.
2) Belief by osmosis—brought up believing it and never questioned it.
3) Belief by appeal to authority— or argumentum ad verecundiam, which is a form of defeasible argument in which the opinion of an authority on a topic is used as evidence to support an argument.
4) Belief by following the crowd— believing what the crowd believes.
5) Belief by “it sounds good.”
6) Belief by “it feels good.”
7) Belief based on provable fact.
As we see, six of the impetuses of belief are not based in fact. Facts are often hard to establish. It’s a human trait to take the easy route when it comes to belief in anything. We tend to believe what sounds good, what feels good. Or we listen to an authority figure without determining upon what facts the argument is based. When misinformation, and subsequent belief in falsehood costs lives, as with the COVID 19 conspiracy theories, it becomes clear that we humans need to step it up a notch when it comes to what we believe. We need to take responsibility to deep-source-check the facts, from the originating source. If a link to a report is published in an article, click the link; if the link takes you to a link to a study, read the study. If you don’t understand the science of something, read up on the actual science from a leading university, for instance. Go to the originating source and fact check. Avoid biased sources. You can do it. We can beat the infodemic with a little elbow grease and time. It’s worth it. And in the case of COVID 19, lives may depend on it.
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