“Energy drinks like Red Bull contain an ingredient extracted from bull semen!” reads the headline on Facebook. After the 973rd Facebook link to a story I knew was false, I stopped replying with the www.snopes.com debunking link. People will believe what they want to. It’s called “confirmation bias” and it plagues each of us. Simply put, if you suffer from confirmation bias (big reveal: we all do, to some extent), then you will tend to place more emphasis on facts, statistics, stories, etc. that support your point of view. So, for the Red Bull story, those who want to believe that companies have no problem putting weird stuff in our food (worms in McDonald’s food, bubble gum made of spiders) will tend to believe that energy drink companies are out there getting “donations” from the bulls of the world and putting it in their products. My own personal view is that if it sounds really weird, gross, or otherwise “out there,” it probably is. So I tend to fact check all that stuff.
Weird Facebook stories are one thing, but what if we raise the stakes? Here are some other issues of the day. How many people are still arguing them, and what are the chances either side will change their mind? What’s the confirmation bias with regards to:
Obama’s birth certificate (either you trust that he’s been properly vetted, or you believe that somehow he shanghaied the system)
Climate Change (we are melting the world, or it’s all junk science aimed at government control of its citizens)
Bundy Ranch Standoff (Bundy is a nutjob, or the federal government is all about oppressing hard working citizens to give gains to a few elites).
That last one is the one I am having the hardest time with currently. The Bundy Ranch standoff started many years ago, and is essentially a dispute between Clive Bundy, a rancher, and the federal government, specifically the Bureau of Land Management. Recently, the feds confiscated cattle and moved to physically remove Mr. Bundy and his operation from the disputed area. Bundy refused to go. Contingencies of like-minded citizens responded to block the Bureau from carrying out their directive, and the feds backed down rather than escalate the armed confrontation. Things have gone in different directions from there, with different spins on every new development.
Depending on which side you talk to, both have extremely compelling evidence of the righteousness of their cause. Where does the truth lie? Where do we find the truth online—everyone claims to have the “real story” but there is so much to sift through to find little nuggets of facts.
Snopes.com, (insert other fact check sites here), all try to provide clarity to some of the issues, and in many cases (such as urban legends), we can trust what they say. Can we trust Snopes? Some say we cannot—but it goes back to the confirmation bias—if Snopes verifies something we believe, then it’s true. If they don’t, then they are commie fascists liars with their pants on fire.
With that in mind, I am going to dedicate part of my website to the search for truth. I want to research different sides to some of these issues—some silly, some serious—and try and provide a little clarity on where the truth lies (hint: it’s usually somewhere in the middle).
I have my own beliefs, and my own “confirmation bias” of course, being human and all, but for the sake of the discussion, I will do my best to lay all of that aside as I try to research and be as unbiased as possible.
What issues would you like me to research? Share them in the comments and I will do my best.