Should We Avoid the News?

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“By and large,” writes economist Bryan Caplan, “I think news is a waste of time.  If I want to increase my factual knowledge, I read history – or Wikipedia.  News, I like to say, is the lie that something important happens every day.” With the influence of “fake news” being overblown, is this really a legitimate claim on Caplan’s part? To help make his case, he links to a paper by Swiss writer Rolf Dobelli entitled “Avoid News.” In Dobelli’s view, “News is to the mind what sugar is to the body” (pg. 1). He lists the following reasons:

  1. News misleads us systematicallyImage result for news gif
  2. News is irrelevant
  3. News limits understanding
  4. News is toxic to your body
  5. News massively increases cognitive errors
  6. News inhibits thinking
  7. News changes the structure of your brain
  8. News is costly
  9. News sunders the relationship between reputation and achievement
  10. News is produced by journalists
  11. Reported facts are sometimes wrong, forecasts always
  12. News is manipulative
  13. News makes us passive
  14. News gives us the illusion of caring
  15. News kills creativity

What does Dobelli suggest instead? “Go without news. Cut it out completely. Go cold turkey…If you want to keep the illusion of “not missing anything important”, I suggest you glance through the summary page of the Economist once a week” (pg. 10). He notes that if there is indeed “some bit of information is truly important to your profession, your company, your family or your community, you will hear it in time – from your friends, your mother-in-law or whomever you talk to or see” (pg. 10). But the clincher is the following:

Read magazines and books which explain the world – Science, Nature, The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly. Go for magazines that connect the dots and don’t shy away from presenting the complexities of life – or from purely entertaining you. The world is complicated, and we can do nothing about it. So, you must read longish and deep articles and books that represent its complexity. Try reading a book a week. Better two or three. History is good. Biology. Psychology. That way you’ll learn to understand the underlying mechanisms of the world. Go deep instead of broad. Enjoy material that truly interests you. Have fun reading (pg. 10).

This is akin to what Hans Rosling said: “You can’t use media if you want to understand the world.” You need to use data. It’s also similar to my blogging style here at Difficult Run. And while I’m not sure if I’m completely convinced by Dobelli, it’s worth reflecting on.