Making good decisions requires good information. That’s an easy concept, isn’t it? Unless we know the facts, we are guessing. Even worse, when we have incorrect information the decisions we make can have horrific results.
Today, we want to look at three things about how information and misinformation affect our ability to make good decision.
- Misinformation, if spread loudly enough and often enough, pushes real information out.
First, let’s recognize misinformation and “fake news” for what they are: lies directed at making people believe fallacies.
In March 2014, then Ohio Attorney General (now governor) Mike DeWine argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that an Ohio law prohibiting lies in political advertising was unconstitutional. One of the bases of his argument was that voters were smart enough to recognize the difference between lies and facts.
We wish he were correct. That case contributed to the flow of lies we face today.
A study by researchers at Ohio State University examined the impact of misinformation on the 2016 elections. They concluded fake news probably played a significant role in depressing Hillary Clinton’s support on Election Day. The study suggests that about 4 percent of President Barack Obama’s 2012 supporters were dissuaded from voting for Clinton in 2016 by belief in fake news stories, enough to turn the election..
Research from Princeton found survey and web traffic data from the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign show that Trump supporters were most likely to visit these websites, which often spread via Facebook. Their research estimates that 44.3% of Americans age 18 or older visited an article on an untrustworthy website during the study period, which covered the final weeks of the 2016 election campaign.
The Ohio State researchers found voters who had supported President Obama in 2012 “were 3.9 times more likely to defect from the Democratic ticket in 2016 than those who believed none of these false claims.” This misinformation was spread on a variety of cable news and opinion outlets and was shouted by pundits and commentators from other sources. When people are subjected to the lies from a variety of sources, they drown out the truth.
- Facts are misremembered to fit personal biases
Even when we are presented with factual information, our biases impact what we hear. Another study by Ohio State researchers indicates people misremember information to fit their personal biases.
In this study researchers found that when given accurate statistics on a controversial issue, people tended to misremember numbers to match their own beliefs. They also found when researchers gave study participants accurate information and asked them to convey it to others, the accuracy of their information was more consistent with people’s beliefs rather than the factual numbers.
- Misinformation can impact workplace decisions
When we do problem solving at work or use statistics to help in decision making, we need to be careful to keep misinformation from creeping in to the process. This includes taking care in how and what data is gathered and how it is analyzed.
In the 1960’s, numerous “studies” were released purporting to show that cigarettes were harmless to health. A closer look showed that these studies were sponsored by tobacco companies and others that profited from their sales.
When we look at studies, we also need to ask who did the study and how the data was gathered. Was the individual or group that conducted the research attempting to prove a point rather than acting in an unbiased manner? Does a department or group that would benefit from the study also plan how it would be done? Were standardized methods used to collect the information by either quantitative or qualitative process? How were participants in the study selected?
Researchers have been known to disregard data that does not meet their expectations or prove their objective. When we use information in the workplace, we need to be certain we are not dealing with misinformation that can do significant damage to our organization or its credibility.
The negative impacts of misinformation (also known as lies in many instances) extens from our nation to our workplaces to ourselves. We must be vigilant in critically analyzing the information we hear, consider carefully the source of the information, and question the validity of what is presented.