Fallible stories

April 22, 2011 | By | Reply More

At Vital Concerns for the World, Anthropology Professor Robert Canfield points to the recent disclosures about Greg Mortensen’s best seller, Three Cups of Tea, as further evidence that we need to be wary about the claims on which we base our social policy:

Once more we have learned that the stories we like to believe are not exactly true. Again it turns out that the stories we embrace have been shaped by the interests and agendas of fallible human beings like ourselves. Much of what we “know” about our world comes to us already misshapen by the interests of those who pass it on to us.

The recent revelations about Mortensen remind us that we are easily suckered by claims that support our existing beliefs and desires.   Cognitive scientists have long shown that human beings are constant prey to the confirmation bias.  Vigilance about claims, then, especially fantastic claims, should

Image by Erich Vieth

never go on vacation.  Canfield’s quote also reminds me of Carl Sagan’s caveat: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”  We need to be especially wary about tall claims from the far corners of the world where evidence gathering is sparse to non-existence.

Three Cups of Tea, like all too many stories these days, is a story about how to spin and embellish a story.


Category: American Culture, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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