Be skeptical of your own thinking

Blood sucker
Budding politician?

You don’t have to know a lot about history to know that people used to think illness could be caused by too much blood, and so the way to cure illness was to bleed the patient. I heard that George Washington died as a result of being bled to treat pneumonia (turns out it was actually “acute epiglottitis“). We just shake our heads and sigh at the ignorance.

You may not realize that the idea of “having too much blood” made perfect sense, supported by evidence and observation. Continue reading “Be skeptical of your own thinking”

photo by: Sarah G...
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Just the facts? The way you say it matters

Detail of Aaron's Tree assignment
Creative Commons License photo credit: goldberg

“Just the facts” is a phrase not only a part of American culture, but part of a values system–as if the facts can be separated from the expression of facts. Here’s the reality: there is no such thing as facts apart from the expression of those facts, and the expression of facts inevitably changes the perception. The mere selection¬†of facts, of which facts to focus on, changes perception.

For instance, Scott Shane notes a very important dichotomy in the way people talk about tax increases on businesses (as if a tax increase on business doesn’t just get passed on to the rest of us anyway–but that’s a different point). In his article¬†Less than a Tenth or More than Four Fifths? he says, “The share of small businesses and the fraction of small business income hit by tax increases are usually very different numbers.” Both are simply facts, and yet the choice of which to focus on in a talk or a paper yield very different impressions.

Continue reading “Just the facts? The way you say it matters”

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