Political speeches, advertisements, newspaper articles, sales people; they’re all the same. Each of these scenarios involve one or more people trying to convince you about something. Politicians, who’re often good orators, have the ability to make anything seem like rainbows and sunshine with a cherry on top, and lead the emotions of their listeners (remember Obama?). The most hollow of advertisements lead to drones of poorly informed people queuing up in groves to spend money on a product that may not be of much use. Newspapers do a great job of directing the thoughts of those who rely on them excessively for being aware. This highlights a rather disturbing aspect of our society.
Why aren’t we skeptical about the information we’re being fed?
Interestingly enough, the dissemination of scientific knowledge in the form of publications also revolves around a similar scenario. To get a paper published, authors must manage to convince a set of reviewers that the authors’ work takes a step forward in expanding the horizon of human knowledge. But in the world of peer-review, a reviewer tries his very best to reject the work being presented with a thorough dissection of each and every sentence in the paper. From technical quality, to originality, to mere presentation, every little detail often matters when trying to publish a paper in a reasonably good conference or journal. When a reviewer feels that he/she couldn’t unearth enough flaws in the paper, the paper gets a green.
Why does this difference exist? Why do we let politicians hypnotise us with their words and lure us into a judgement we really shouldn’t make? One important factor I can attribute this to is education itself, but strangely enough, we are often am more skeptical about the papers we review than the news articles we read. Luckily, for the easily deceived, Web 2.0 has been the greatest blessing of them all. Every time we read a blog post or a news article online, all we need to do is scroll down to see what comments the article has received. This lets us see how different people perceive the same piece of writing, giving us different perspectives of the same content. Twitter and other social networks allow us to hear of voices from far and wide, further helping in this direction. Read the same articles from different news sources. Having a sense of different viewpoints puts us in the rather powerful position of being able to formulate an opinion. An opinion is something we hold dear to ourselves, it allows us to make a stand. It protects us from being puppets in the drama of deception. It protects us from being mislead. It allows us to convince ourselves of something, rather than letting someone else do that for us. This simple yet powerful ability to think, is what makes us stand apart from other species on the planet.
Don’t relegate yourself to an existence that merely accepts what you’re told. A big flaw in the educational system (at least in India), is where students are taught something in class, they nod their heads to what they’re told, and they write exactly that in an examination to get ‘marks’. Any deviance from what was explained in the lecture, even if it is a brilliant flash of creativity, is considered ‘incorrect’. This, rather preposterous incentive, is what makes students dumber. Students are thus discouraged from thinking and lead away from having an opinion and questioning the facts. Will this ever change? I don’t know.
So please; Think. Ponder. Question. Challenge. Not convinced? Reject.