Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Bulllspotting: Finding Facts in the Age of Misinformation - by Loren Collins


Heuristics - mental shortcuts that allow people to solve problems and make judgments quickly and efficiently... and allow people to function without constantly stopping to think about their next course of action. While heuristics are helpful in many situations, they can also lead to biases (from about education)

I've been working with one of the Psychology professors at my University for the last few years researching how students use heuristics in making choices about what to "click" when confronted with thousands of choices in a "Google" result list. Collins explains how we evolved to use heuristics and how the scientific method developed over a long period of time.

As a librarian who teaches Information Literacy (IL) this book wasn't so much "eye opening" for me as it was validation and clarification. Collins explores why people believe pseudo-science, rather than examining things via the scientific method (hint: it's easier and faster) and also how we can be more effective in our critical thinking in an age where false information can be sent around the world in a less than a day.

The author also looks at pseudo-history, and pseudo-law, explaining why "the crank in his basement...with a high school diploma [insists] that he understands American jurisprudence better than the Supreme Court."

I was reminded while reading the chapter on pseudo-law that the O.J. Simpson trial was taking place in 1995 while I was working in a public library. About once a week during the nine-month trial someone would call and ask how they could get in touch with Marcia Clark, the prosecutor in the case, always telling me they had some key information they needed to share with her.

There were a few specific mentions of libraries, but the interest in this one for librarians is less on where and how Collins refers to them, as it is on how librarians can better understand why and how our users are looking for information.

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