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Updated: Aug 20, 2023

Today is all about nonfiction, because today is about trustworthiness.

Do you trust what you read? Should you?

There are many good and bad sides to many coins in the publishing industry becoming as some people call it democratized. Anyone can self-publish today on Amazon, and anyone can say anything they want on the internet.

When we used to see a book on a bookstore shelf, there was an assumption of authority. The content between the covers of that book had been reviewed by experts in the field, by editors, and by … someone useful... and was factual so far as the topic matter could be factual. We trusted the content and we trusted the source. To some extent we even trusted the bookstore that curated the content. We still think that.

Research scientists and many people in related fields as well as journalism, social sciences, etc. find a great deal of success and notoriety by means of publication. They have an increase in clout. But is it true that they should do so?

Nothing at all prevents me from publishing a book tomorrow espousing that the Earth is flat. As a physicist I can demonstrate in my own backyard with a yardstick that it is not. The Greeks knew it was not, and even estimated the length of the equator remarkably closely. But nonetheless I could say otherwise, and give false data enough to fill a book. The book could be read and it might be believed by some.

So who do we trust? When you pick up a nonfiction piece do you know that it is right?

First let me say, avoid echo chambers. That is harder and harder to do today, but it is more important than ever we do it. I am not by any means saying to give equal credence to every side in an argument. That is wrong too. Not every side has equal data or is equally correct, but I am saying you can and should read judiciously on both sides of a question. If you don’t know what is right or have reason to believe humanity as a whole doesn’t know, read broadly. This will give you data from both sides of any given argument.

Another method to know if what you are reading is valid is to check the authors' references. If tomorrow I wrote a book on how to sew, everyone should be skeptical. I have never thrown a single stitch in my life. If I write a book on physics, we might be on better ground. Look up the education experience, and publicly available accolades of the individual who is saying they know something. By no means will this guarantee factual data, but it might help.

Finally understand that perfectly factual data is at times hard to come by and a person without an agenda and no bias is impossible to come by. Everyone has biases, including whoever you learned the most from in your life. They will hold beliefs which are wrong, just as I do, just as you do. The key to reading correctly, is to read enough, that you can have reasonable confidence in what you say, and reasonable self-doubt, to learn more.

Whatever you do, do not trust blinding to any source. especially when it is important. (Medicine, child care, money matters, self help... etc.)

Learn, and do so broadly.

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Anna Varlese
Anna Varlese
19 Ιουλ 2023

Great PSA!

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