One of the big focus points we have for the Tactical Tangents project is the application of critical thinking to our personal and professional lives, and the importance of challenging our own assumptions. In the digital age that we live, it is more important than ever to be a critical consumer of information (That’s a Jim-ism). It’s pretty easy to sound smart these days, because we have access to just enough information to get us in trouble (Google the Dunning-Kruger effect, or click here). We have to apply a fair dose of skepticism before we take so-called intelligence at face value.  

Enter conspiracy theories. Was 9/11 an inside job? But the melting point of steel is 9,321,584,468 degrees! In the midst of any event that gets national attention—school shootings, police misconduct,  political blunders, etc.—people want explanations. Why won’t they tell us the shooter’s motive!? I get it. We want answers. We want the truth! It’s not that we should never consider elaborate cover-ups, but extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. Isn’t it possible they just don’t have all the answers yet? When people—and the media—don’t get what they want, they tend to use their imagination to fill in the blanks. Once someone starts spreading rumors or “ideas” with an aura of authority, it gets difficult to filter out the signal from the noise. The power of suggestion may very well affect our judgment. Sometimes, we just have to be patient. 

People have a natural tendency to fill intellectual blanks. Cognitive psychologists have studied a procedure called the D.R.M. Paradigm. They provided lists of words that participants were supposed to memorize, and chose words that lured participants to a familiar word that wasn’t there. For example, 12-15 words related to “sleep” were provided (slumber, dream, bed) and over 60% of participants claimed to remember “sleep” as one of the words on the list (it wasn’t). Were they lying!? Did they make it up?! No, of course not. But our memory—and our perception—are fallible. 

Fact-check details that might have an impact. Our friends don’t usually have malicious intent when they share rumors or fake news, but it’s on us to take a closer look. Ask difficult questions. Trust, but verify. What facts can you corroborate, and with what degree of confidence? What are the alternative conclusions? What are we missing? Remember that correlation does not equal causation (link), and beware of logical fallacies (link). Be a critical consumer of information. For the sake of your own credibility, think twice before you feed into the drama. You’re better than that.


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We will be releasing our podcast interview with Dr. Tang on June 1st. Dr. Tang is a surgeon and trauma director at Southern AZ’s only level 1 trauma center. Check it out!


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