There is a lot of stuff to worry about in the world these days. There is the rising danger of global warming. There is the war in Iraq. There is immigration, outsourcing, and stem cell research. Locally here in Miami, there is the real estate bust, hurricane preparations, and protecting the Everglades. If I want to be a good citizen, I feel obligated to make the best decisions I can on how to live my life, who to vote for, and what causes to support. But how much do I really know about any of these issues? I am a well-educated person, with degrees in engineering, psychology, and management. But my personal experience with global warming is that is was pretty hot today and watching the glaciers calve on my cruise to Alaska last summer. I have never been to Iraq and don’t know any soldiers who have recently returned from combat. I have lived through quite a few hurricanes, but I honestly couldn’t say if my wind-resistant windows are really protecting me any better than the cheaper ones that looked pretty much the same to me.
So how do I know what to do? How can I wake up, get out of bed, and live my life according to the values and priorities that are important to me? I rely on experts. When I bought my hurricane windows, I looked for an official rating and a state certified contractor. When I decide what to believe about Iraq, I listen to the reports from embedded journalists, military experts, and Middle East scholars. Is outsourcing good or bad – I decide based on economists and policy experts. I have learned over time that the only way to really know is to find the most reliable sources of information and listen to BOTH sides of the issue. And I avoid the politicians and commentators who yell at me through the cameras of the cable news shows. No matter how confident they seem on TV, most of them have motives other than the truth.
One of the great things about the Internet is that the opinions of the world’s leading experts on just about any issue are available if you are willing to spend a few minutes searching around. But the challenge of the Internet is that it is teeming with the opinions of millions of other people with even stronger opinions, but not as much credibility. And these other opinions are much easier to find. It would be very easy to check a few blogs or cable channels that I know would mirror back at me the opinion that I already have, and I wouldn’t have to think very hard to agree with them. But then I think about how important these decisions are and I force myself to spend a little bit more time searching for the real truth.
Now I know that when I buy my hurricane windows, enter the voting booth, or choose a mortgage, I making my choice based on the best available information. I am fortunate that my education allows me to weigh the scientific studies, economic analyses, and understand the complexities of these issues. And I know that I am in the minority, that many people just follow the TV sound bites. But if enough people pay attention to the real experts, the world can become a better place. I have to believe that, or I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. Who would tell me what to eat for breakfast?
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