On Blogging And Soothsaying

The internet is a wonderful means of spreading information, but there is a danger of spreading misinformation.  It probably takes far fewer years of education to read a science article than to fully understand it.  The danger is that, just as many people rely on their horoscopes, so too do many people rely on their favorite bloggers to do their critical thinking for them.

If bloggers write in the full knowledge or expectation that they address a largely uncritical audience, and with the intent to do their readers' thinking for them, then they are the new soothsayers, oracles, shamans and astrologers.  The general uncritical reader of such blogs will, such writers hope, prefer the simplicity of a chicken entrails reading to the complexity of a scientific method which requires them to actually think.

Do uncritical people seek out uncritical writers?  Do such readers prefer to read things which are seemingly  'self-evident' and 'blindingly obvious' such that the reader need not engage in higher order thinking?

Another possibility is that some readers actively seek out bloggers who will confirm their own suspicions of something strange going on, some sort of conspiracy.  If a reader once stumbles upon an article which 'confirms' their suspicions, is it not likely that they will keep returning?  Is it not likely that the writer will be held in high esteem by such a reader?

If a person believes that a writer's analysis of 'the facts' directly addresses the reader's doubts and suspicions;

if the reader believes, or comes to believe, that the writer is someone to trust;

if the writer thanks such a reader for comments whilst ignoring, deleting or mocking comments from critics;

then, I suggest, the blogger will build up quite a readership and reputation: but that reputation will be founded solidly on the writer's ability to manipulate minds by addressing reader bias.

The danger with using such methods to do other people's thinking for them is that if the readers come to realise that they have been 'had', then the backlash will be severe.  Of course, this is the 21st century, so nobody is going to get tarred and feathered.  You just can't get the materials in your local shop these days.

I often formulated my problem as one of distinguishing between a genuinely empirical method and a non-empirical or even pseudo-empirical method — that is to say, a method which, although it appeals to observation and experiment, nevertheless does not come up to scientific standards. The latter method may be exemplified by astrology, with its stupendous mass of empirical evidence based on observation — on horoscopes and on biographies.
Sir Karl Popper

Concluding remarks

Confirmation bias and the Forer effect* are just two of many sources of cognitive bias.
Since I am evidently aware of the power of bias it is incumbent on me to avoid exercising such power in my writing.  I cannot say it enough times: I have no wish to do my readers' thinking for them.

The nearest I will ever get to soothsaying in my blog is this:

Beware the Kalends of April!

Further reading:

* - Forer_The fallacy of personal validation_1949.pdf