The other day I was talking to someone who said he had heard on the radio that the US Federal government was going to give free digital television converts to welfare recipients, and that they were spending $100,000 each on plasma TVs in prisons. This came from what was described as “the most trustworthy radio news source in the area.”
Frankly, I couldn’t believe it. There was a coupon program to buy converters at a discount, but the program used up all its money, and had been discontinued. (Recently, it has been given more money by the federal bailout, and is operating again.) However, these coupons are available to anyone who desires them, so it’s hardly being targeted to those receiving government assistance.
But I wondered what the origin of these stories had been, so I hit the internet.
It turned out that millions of households on welfare might be given free digital television converters—in Japan sometime before their digital switchover in 2011. The prison story was a little closer to what’s real—the state of Florida’s department of corrections is spending $100,000 total, approximately $1 per inmate, out of its $2.3 billion dollar budget to convert existing television to digital.
Our opinions are often based on incorrect facts. Part of this is described in basic psychology—it’s called confirmation bias—how we filter evidence that strengthens our preconceptions.
But also our incorrect knowledge of history, various sciences, and current events allows us to hold on to incorrect opinions.
This is especially true in “popular knowledge”—think about all those e-mail forwards you receive that 15 seconds at about.com or Snopes could easily refute. Think about all the people who believe wearing a magnet on their wrist will make them healthy. Or all the “Christians” who espouse the heresy of the Prosperity Gospel and can even quote Scripture out of context to support it. Or that rubber tires protect vehicle occupants from lighting strikes. Or that a metal vehicle acts as a Faraday cage. (It doesn’t.)
At any rate, I have been thinking much of late that we should all do more analysis before we speak.
I wish we could all just be smarter.
I wish I could just be smarter.