Tag Archives: facts

How to manufacture facts like a champ

“Boomerang kids: 85% of college grads move home,” blared a headline on CNNMoney.com. “85% of college grads return to nest,” echoed the New York Post. “Survey: 85% of New College Grads Move Back in with Mom and Dad,”said Time magazine’s website.

Recently, the 85 percent figure emerged in the presidential campaign, in an ad from the Republican group American Crossroads that blames President Barack Obama for the boomerang.

We rated the claim False, but as we dug into the number, we found the media had repeated it with little scrutiny. Journalists were content to copy a number from other news reports without verifying it — or even asking when the survey was conducted.

If the reporters had looked deeper, they would have found some oddities about the firm that claimed to have conducted the survey, a Philadelphia-area company called Twentysomething. The company’s website had an impressive list of staffers, but when we checked on them, we found several who either didn’t work for the company or appeared to be fictional.

The whole story is even weirder than you might imagine, and cane be seen over at Politifact. Moral of the story, news without public citations is suspect.

With all the crap wikipedia gets on accuracy, they are quite good about creating a culture of “citation needed”. We need more of that.


The Red Thinking Hat

Ed de Bono has published a number of interesting books on using what we seem to understand about the brain to force ourselves to be more creative and get out of ruts. Some of his training was included in a leadership class I took back in 2006. Among the various models for thinking about thinking he created, one is this idea of the Six Thinking Hats.

One of the things we learn from Western Classical teaching is that the road to the truth is through 2 sides arguing, and eventually the truth emerges. Our entire legal system is based on it. The problem is, this is actually a really poor way to get to consensus, because once people start arguing for a side they actually become more entrenched in the idea as it progresses.

The human mind is an interesting thing, we often decide something is good or bad from our gut, and then spin a complex set of justifications later. Justifications that come out on the fly about why a gut reaction is provably true in some way. Everyone does this to some degree. As with everything, it’s easier to see this flaw in others, but watch yourself in a heated discussion next time. If you pay attention close enough, you’ll see yourself doing it. We all have these reactions, that’s part of being human.

But it’s not part of being productive or moving forward. de Bono created a methodology for working with ideas with different colored hats. You tell everyone that now is the time for White Hat, which means facts only on the table. Black and Yellow are worst case and best case scenarios respectively. Green is for new idea generation, and Blue for wrapping things together. And then there is the Red hat. If what you are discussing has any level of contentiousness, it’s really important to open up a time where everyone can express their feeling and gut reactions about it, not with a complex justification for those feelings, just the feelings themselves. I divorces the gut instincts from logical arguments, but it still lets everyone express them, and that can be useful data in making a decision.

Even if you are doing anything that formal, the Red Thinking Hat is an interesting model for realizing you are no longer in a conversation or debate that’s going anywhere except round and round in circles on previous prejudices.

While de Bono wrote lots of books, including one specific to this, the book Serious Creativity, was the one most recommended to us by the instructor I had. I’ve used as a class refresher over the years, and it includes an introduction to the Six Thinking Hats, as well as much more about idea generation.