Five suggestions for filtering out truth in a world of mixed messages.
Saturday I read an article about Sweden’s response to the coronavirus from one of the news sources I trust, one which leans right politically. When I finished it, my Google News Feed suggested another article on Sweden from another of my more trusted sources. From my perspective, the second one leans slightly left. The differences between the perspectives were shocking.
Now before I show you the articles, I need to reinforce something. These are two sources that I generally trust. They lean right and left, but they’re not extreme.
First, here’s the headline and start of the article from National Review, the conservative publication:
No lockdown, no shuttered businesses or elementary schools, no stay-at-home. And no disaster, either.
Spring is in the air, and it is increasingly found in the confident step of the people of Sweden.
With a death rate significantly lower than that of France, Spain, the U.K., Belgium, Italy, and other European Union countries, Swedes can enjoy the spring without panic or fears of re-igniting a new epidemic as they go about their day in a largely normal fashion.
Wow. Good news.
But here is the article that Google News suggested when I finished that one:
Trump Says Sweden ‘Paying Heavily’ For Failure To Lock Down As Death Tolls Rise Over 2,500
Sweden has eschewed stay-at-home orders and sanitary measures like public mask-wearing; as a result, the country is being wracked by coronavirus and people are dying faster than they are in the United States, which has attracted the attention of President Trump. He took to Twitter on Thursday to bash Sweden and praise U.S. lockdown measures.
“Despite reports to the contrary, Sweden is paying heavily for its decision not to lock down. . . . The United States made the correct decision!” Trump tweeted.
More than 26% of Sweden’s 2 million inhabitants will be infected by May 1, 2020, Swedish Health officials say (New York’s infection rate is 21.2%, for reference).
Sweden has 2,586 deaths, for a mortality rate of 256 per million residents, while there have been much lower tolls in its locked-down Nordic neighbors: Denmark has had 452 deaths and a mortality rate of 78 per million, and Norway has had 210 deaths, or 39 per million residents.
The Swedish government chose not to order residents to stay at home based on the belief that doing so would hurt the economy and exacerbate the crisis—it’s trusted citizens to voluntarily abide by social distancing, and it only banned gatherings of 50-plus individuals and forbade citizens from visiting nursing homes as of late March.
Sweden’s central bank, the Riksbank, and a key Swedish think tank say that the country’s economy will suffer equally to its locked-down European neighbors, CNBC reported Thursday.
That’s the world we’re living in. Conflicting messages, all being put forth as truth. Who should we believe? How do we filter through all the noise to find something worth holding on to? Here are some ideas:
- Remember, nobody knows. Everybody claims to know. Nobody does. This is the novel coronavirus. The new one. It’s never been here before. We’ve never dealt with it and we have no history. There are no exact parallels and models are simply intelligent guesses (even if they are made by highly intelligent people). Everything you read contains speculation, no matter how intelligent they are or how confident they sound.
- The more confident they sound, the more I mistrust them. Anyone who claims certainty is deluding themselves. Period. (See point 1.)
- Seek out people who disagree with you. Confirmation bias, our tendency to find evidence that supports what we want to be true, is real. That’s why I read Forbes and National Review and The Atlantic and The Wall Street Journal, which each have their biases, but tend to balance each other out. I’ll also check out Slate and Vox, which are way to the left of me. (I don’t need to seek out the extreme right because so many of my Facebook friends live there and their opinions populate my news feed.) If you see consensus forming across the “battle lines”, you might just be seeing something real.
- Root out selfishness. I am a selfish person. So are you. It’s the only flavor humans come in. We want things to go in a way that works best for us. That is the strong current that guides the stream of our lives. The only way to ever hope to overcome it is to actively fight it.
- Keep the faith. God’s grip on his universe hasn’t slipped. Don’t let your fear drive your opinions.
- Go for growth. Okay, this one isn’t about filtering the news, but still… If you have more time for introspection, listen closely to what God wants to teach you during this time. I know he is taking me in some directions that I’m not sure I’d have listened to six months ago. He may well want to move you in some significant new directions during this time as well. Listen and cooperate.
Anyway, those are my five plus one. If you have more, leave them in the comments. And if you’d like to know more about analyzing sources for media bias, this site is far from perfect, but it’s a reasonable place to start.