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  • Pauline Hoffmann

I don't know how to respond to this...

I was updating my website over the weekend and posting my newsletter posts in the blog section. My last "weekly" newsletter was the end of January. Gah! I am so sorry to have kept all of you waiting. I better not disappoint.

I had a list of topics I wanted to cover in this newsletter over the next couple of weeks but I find myself shifting gears a bit. I have been reading much to much about conspiracy theories and the danger they may pose. I'm also worried about institutions that should have our trust but have instead eroded it. Yes, I've noted both in past newsletters and on my podcast, but somehow this week they seem more urgent.

What have I read most recently? A wonderful "New York Times" editorial, by Paul Krugman, titled Conspiracy Theorizing Goes off the Rails, noted that conspiracy theories generally take one of two forms: "those that involve a small, powerful cabal and those that require that thousands of people collude to hide the truth."

I want to unpack that. He used QAnon (secret, small group of pedophiles controls the U.S. government) as the example of a powerful cabal and climate change (it's a hoax cooked up by thousands of scientists worldwide) as collusion. There are many, many others. Covid would be an example. The 2020 election would be another. I could go on for days.....

I won't.

I think we have all heard the stories and the theories. We could list them (I won't). We could break them down and analyze them (I will, a little). What do we really need, though? We need to be able to sift through the clutter to find the truth and then figure out how to calmly, cooly, collectedly get past the conflict and communicate. (Apparently, this newsletter was brought to you by the letter 'c.')

I will be honest. You will not get to everyone. You will not convince everyone what is right. There are so many, many reasons for that. One of them is that the narrative does sometimes change. Remember my newsletter titled the Scientific Method? (I linked to it just in case you do not.) Science is an evolution. What we know today may not be true tomorrow. Are there universal truths? Yes. We call them laws. Gravity and relativity are two examples. You can believe a law to be untrue (if conspiracy theorists have taught us anything it's that you can believe whatever the hell you want). Doesn't change the law. A wonderful writer once wrote (and I wish I could remember his name - I am truly awful at that so obviously I am paraphrasing) that if you don't believe in gravity, you won't float away. Gravity is. There are also theories that are damn near laws but need just a bit more. Evolution is one of them. Some argue evolution is bunk. Okay. I may not do much to change your mind. We still have people believing the Earth to be flat. Those same people probably believe the moon landing was faked and those photos showing a round Earth? Fake.

The reality is that people once did think the Earth was flat. Absent information to prove otherwise, they went with what they had. That's science. Absent information to inform us differently, we use what we have to draw conclusions. Sometimes we have to modify those conclusions. That said, once we have abundant information, it becomes more difficult to dispute. I would argue that is the case with evolution. We have much evidence to note that the world was not created in a week but was created over millennia. We also have much evidence to note that climate change is more than real and humans are driving it.

Let me jump to Covid for a moment. We have much evidence to note that vaccines are effective. We also have much evidence to note how viruses spread and are contracted. However, sometimes we don't have all the information we need right away. Sometimes things take time but we are an inpatient lot! We are so used to having answers at our fingertips (thank you inter web) that we don't want to wait to get the best results. Then we judge you harshly for "flip-flopping."

I also wonder if sometimes people just don't want to be wrong. I don't like being wrong. It sucks. Luckily it doesn't happen often. Just ask my husband. That's why it is so important to approach the subject gingerly. Telling someone they are stupid doesn't ever work. Having that tone - and you know that tone - that implies they are stupid also doesn't work. Just ask my husband. What happens in that case? No amount of "evidence" you provide is going to change that person's mind. To be fair, there is often more to it than just not wanting to be wrong. That's the trouble with conspiracies. Let's break one down so I can explain in more detail.

Covid was created by the Democrats to shut the world down and help its election outcomes. (I have heard this among other things.) This conspiracy might actually be both types of conspiracy mentioned earlier - a cabal (Democrats) and thousands working together (also Democrats). Politics aside, do you believe either of our political parties is organized enough to do this? Think about the problems we have in the U.S. If any party was capable of this type of subterfuge, think of what could be accomplished if they used their powers for good, not evil. I could say that to someone and it won't be believed. There will be another layer. They might say, well, this is something that is very important to them so they figured out how to do it. Um, I guess. I still don't have that kind of faith, nor do we have any kind of evidence.

Then there is evidence. Several of my newsletter issues contain information to help you determine what is real and what is not. One of the problems, though, is that people have trouble distinguishing between facts and opinions. Late New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, "You're entitled to your opinions, but not your own facts." Facts are not refutable. Opinions are your own take. People may certainly take facts and twist them. We see that often. Hey, maybe that's next week's topic. But facts are facts. And there are no "alternative facts." Those are opinions or lies, depending.

Where do we get evidence? I guess that depends who you trust. Guess what? I've also written about trust ! Evidence suggests that trust in media is decreasing. I have to believe that the fiasco at Fox (News) isn't helping. Think about that. We now have evidence that folks there aren't adhering to the Society for Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics. Where are people supposed to turn to get accurate information? [This was the other huge event that had me rattled this week. I work with journalists. They are ethical.]

Distilling information for the average audience is also important. I can spew all kinds of numbers and statistics but most people won't have any idea what I'm talking about. To be clear, that doesn't make anyone stupid. We all have our aptitude. I'm not doing quantum physics and would not understand a physicist spewing quantum at me. (I know quantum isn't spewed but it makes my point. At least I don't think it is. Also making my point.) It takes skill from both sides to breach the barrier. I have to understand that not everyone knows what I know and figure out a way to communicate better. I would also have to understand that I need to know some things in order to comprehend some headier topics. While the later is important, I put the onus on the expert to share information accurately and effectively. That's not a skill everyone has.

Therein lies a communication liaison, of sorts. Someone who can help digest topics for everyone. That will certainly be a focus of future newsletters. It's also something I do well and would love to teach you. Let me know if you are interested.

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