23 November 2007

"I don't want the broader picture"

RSS logoThis article in The Age is about youth and new media, but I sure as heck don't think the issues being raised are confined to youth. In particular:
The promise of creating your own news world — "The Daily Me" — reduces the likelihood of encountering "unexpected ideas and unpopular opinions, a necessary ingredient in any democracy". ...

At the 2006 Online News Association conference in the US a panel of young people was asked by a journalist in the audience whether "reading RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds exclusively would stifle discovery of the broader picture". One 15-year-old panellist replied, "I'm not trying to get a broader picture, I'm trying to get what I want."
The difficulty of listening to views contrary to your own seems to be the theme for today. As I was walking over to work, I was listening to a fascinating interview (streaming audio) with William Rees (who coined the term "ecological footprint") on Sounds Like Canada, who argued we are neurologically predisposed to filter out bad news and ideas that don't agree with our own.

I've talked about this phenomenon at least once before, if not more often (just can't find the posts). It worries me terribly. From home schooling to higher education, it becomes possible to spend your entire educational career with people who agree with you.

I'm wondering a lot if scientists are better at making these serendipitous discoveries and compiling the broader picture or not. My initial expectation is not as much as it used to be, since more and more research is being guided by directed searches through Google Scholar and PubMed rather than thumbing through printed journals in library stacks, as I did through most of my undergraduate career.

On the other hand, I suspect that researchers, by the nature of their training to seek out alternative explanations and to look at evidence, may have slightly -- ever so slightly -- wider filters than the general population. A scientist should be less likely to discount an idea because of its source. But there's no doubt it's a hard task to do.

No comments: