Skepticism During the Flood

For quite some time in this blog and elsewhere, I have argued that critical thinking and skepticism should be present in all areas of life and that we should care about holding justified true beliefs whether the topic of importance is religion, politics, or even now the flood that is enveloping Northeastern Pennsylvania. Many people who are friends with me on Facebook and real life are jumping to wild conclusions and even going so far to levy conspiracy theories. The best we can possibly do right now is to watch local news stations, listen to the local radio, and believe the information reported because there is no good reason to suggest that the reporters are lying, the information is coming through reliable channels, and the reporters have a great deal to lose if they lie (among other reasons).

Here are some myths that have been floating around and problems with belief that face us at the time of crisis and elsewhere.

  • Information is sketchy.
We personally don't know much about how levees, flooding, and emergency procedures work in times like this. We might pick up little bits of information (such as emergency trucks are coming in to location y) and jump to the conclusion that there is a major problem. This, though, is not a warranted conclusion because much done is a preventative measure. Before jumping to conclusions or thinking why we know some happenings are happening, we should instead wait for reporting. We simply don't have the expertise to draw these conclusions in many cases.

  • Information is new.
In times of a large deal of information coming in that is new, reporters, just like us, are first receiving the information and not everything is well-understood like, say, a story that happened yesterday that was reported after someone sat down for an hour or two writing an article and fact-checking. We're prone to jump to conclusions (like I mentioned above), but we should not do this and instead wait for said conclusions to be reported.

  • We're scared.

In times of crisis, it can be quite easy to misinterpret data, hold false beliefs, jump to conclusions, and generally not be good recipients of data for some very obvious reasons.

  • The dike in location x has broken!

So far, no dikes have broken and no reporting has confirmed this. Last night and even today, people jumped to wild conclusions like these when emergency personnel moved into certain areas. People assumed that something was automatically wrong and started telling people that a dike had been breached. Some dikes, too, let water release at a very short pace. At 2:18PM, news reporters on WBRE are saying "no breach, no break." There is seepage, but this is much, much different*.

  • We trust others' words, but don't look for confirmation.

When we hear or see friends of ours whom we trust reporting information, we can be likely to trust what they have to say and then spread the information ourselves. While people might not be lying, they can still be misinterpreting data even if they believe that they have justified beliefs. We need to get information from the proper authorities (reporters, county commissioners, etc).

  • The media is hiding information/downplaying!

I have heard, on many occasions, that the media is willfully omitting information or downplaying in order to not scare people. This hypothesis has no evidence to support it and actually fails for several reasons. General information that is happening like people dying, houses flooding, property being destroyed, etc is being reported and is scary. There is no good reason to suppose that the reporters are lying; reporters, in this case, as you may imagine, want to be honest with people and simply report the news. While there may be bias in many other instances, this is a story impacting everyone, free from politics, ideological slant, etc.

The flood is scary, information is uncertain and new, many rumors are going around, people are jumping to conclusions, and there may be some distrust of the media. We need, though, to take a breather, analyze the information we receive, ask important questions, and look for confirmation for information going beyond this seems right or my friend said it. Stay safe, follow the evacuation orders, and mind the curfew from 9PM to 6AM.

* Update, people are telling me that there was reporting of a breach, so I could be mistaken on this. Either way, even if this was the case, the news reporters made a mistake and, as with new information comes in, we need to not jump to conclusions like those I mentioned above have done.