The more you learn the less you know

Being “up to date” beyond a certain point – that is, being aware of all of the latest tweets, news stories, stock quotes, etcetera – can actually hurt one’s understanding of the universe. This is partially explained by the lingering impact of misinformation.

In trying to get a story first, publishers – whether old-line media or your brother-in-law on twitter – will inevitably get some facts wrong. Journalism is, after all, the first draft of history – and citizen journalism even more so. These mistakes will (hopefully) eventually be corrected in the public record. However, the damage that the initial, incorrect facts do to public understanding seems to be permanent. That’s because the human brain does not process corrections as well as it processed the original story.

This is beautifully spelled out in an article in Psychological Science in the Public Interest from December, 2012. I have no idea how the article came to my attention, but I’m glad it did. Worth a quick read.

Now I don’t feel quite as bad for thinking that Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were not the guys in brown dri-fit and a white baseball cap.

I’ll try to remember this the next time I’m tempted to retweet some half-baked “fact.”

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