Finding Easy Support

September 27, 2016 / Jongjin

In my debate class, Arjun Ramani (‘17, state champion (‘16), 5th in the nation (‘16)) was giving me along with the rest of the class, advice on research. One of the tips he mentioned was that using Boolean terms, anybody can find any specific evidence for any specific argument they’re looking for. When I asked him further today, he clarified, “you can find anything.” And he’s absolutely right.

For example, concerning the Syrian refugee crisis, if I need evidence that accepting Syrian refugees increase terrorism, it can be found easily:

According to a 2008 paper by Amanda Ekey of NYU,” a 1% increase in the size of a country’s 2005 refugee 22 population creates a corresponding 18% increase in terrorist attacks committed by groups based in that country”

For example, concerning the Syrian refugee crisis, if I wanted to find evidence that accepting Syrian refugees decrease terrorism, it is also easily found:

According to a 2013 paper by Daniel Milton of Arkansas State University, there are “two ways in which refugee flows [flows meaning refugees continually being forced to move] can lead to transnational terrorism: (1) conditions in camps contribute to the radicalization of refugees; and (2) how poorly host states treat refugees. . . The average refugee experience is miserable at best. . . Refugees occupy unsanitary and isolated camps [managed by NGOs], which lack access to basic resources and healthcare. [This can] lead some . . . refugees to be more vulnerable to violent ideologies and forms of expression, including terrorism.”

These are two different (and legitimate) sources saying two opposite things. This, of course, isn’t a paradox of any sort. It’s worth noting that these two sources are two different perspectives written by people with different opinions and views that could have easily affected their study. And with deeper investigation (that I’m too lazy to get into), it can be found that the methodology of their studies differed leading to two different conclusions. At hindsight, this seems to be a good thing; it should be, right? The increase, advancement, and the popularization of technology including the internet, has allowed more and more people with the accessibility to view more and more differing perspectives that should, in the end, benefit the mass by letting them come to a sound, logical conclusion of their own. But this is not the case.

William Davies, associate professor in political economy at Goldsmiths, University of London, and the author of “The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being,” wrote in a New York Times article, “The Age of Post-Truth Politics.” He says, “If you really want to find an expert willing to endorse a fact, and have sufficient money or political clout behind you, you probably can… The problem is the oversupply of facts in the 21st century: There are too many sources, too many methods, with varying levels of credibility, depending on who funded a given study and how the eye-catching number was selected… This produces some chilling possibilities for politics.

Once numbers are viewed more as indicators of current sentiment, rather than as statements about reality, how are we to achieve any consensus on the nature of social, economic and environmental problems, never mind agree on the solutions?”

Preferably, the exposure to more varied ideas and opportunities for checking facts should result in a more educated populace. But the proliferation of the internet can foster willful ignorance and distortions of reality.

Instead of pursuing information for the sake of accurately understanding reality, people look for communities that share beliefs akin to their own. They’ve already formed their conclusion; all they need to do is quickly Google search the evidence to back it up. Because of this, disagreeing views are quickly undermined and dismissed. Anyone can find anything that fits their assumptions or pre-existing ideologies.

Many, including myself, fall into the trap of categorizing the world into two groups: those who agree with you and those who don’t. It’s so important to avoid this kind of polarization so it’s can’t hinder us from forming real, logical conclusions from accurate evidence. It’s important to know, that when finding information, that we’re looking for more knowledge, rather than easy support for our already-existing beliefs.

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