January 24, 2021

Mental models

The psychology of fact checking; A mother’s essay on her own sobriety

A few things worth checking out: 01-24-2021

Read Time 2 minutes

Here are a few links worth checking out:

The Psychology of Fact-Checking: fact-checkers aim to get closer to the truth, but their biases can shroud the very truth they seek (Scientific American, October 25, 2020)

Once again we underscore a commentary on how what we call reality can oh-so easily be distorted. This isn’t the first time the concept has come up—just read a previous weekly email blurb about True-Crime. And it won’t be the last. There is no getting around it, but the scientific process challenges such lenses. We are also largely kept in-check with technological tools that are not as fallible and prone to bias—provided that we utilize them and their output appropriately. The trouble is that journalists and fact checkers are human beings too and just as prone as the rest of us to selective perception biases. The implication here is the spread of misinformation and false beliefs. These ramifications may not always be consciously intentional, given the complexity of some issues and depending on where “facts” are sourced. The article offers a potential solution to get around cognitive bias: pair fact-checkers that hold opposing belief systems, or points of view, on a given matter. I have previously written about this topic and the importance of using red teams. There is something to be said about exposing ourselves to contrasting views which would, as the article notes, minimize the creation of false beliefs. It is far too easy to validate our own “results.” 


Juggling My Children, Their Alcoholic Sitter and My Own Sobriety: the babysitter says she has nine days sober, but we all lie, every addict, every alcoholic (New York Times, January 10, 2021)

This essay is a first-hand account of a mother who shares her internal thought experience as her long-time babysitter watches her children downstairs in her home. The babysitter is 9 days sober. The mom has negotiated abstinence for the past 18 years herself. She remembers and lives the path that the sitter has begun. What she gives voice to, and the way she does it, is impressionable. She writes from a place of kinship—both in the way she feels about the babysitter who has become like a daughter, and in their shared experience with substance. All the while she expresses her concern as a mother whose children are looked after by someone who has recently embarked on a sober path. The writer, Sarah Twobly, eloquently speaks to her experience of duality: both compassion and skepticism for her sitter and, for that matter, herself.  The piece reminds me of something David Foster Wallace writes about in Infinite Jest—we are all addicted to something. Whether it be substance, behavior, a thought pattern.  Likewise, the “hunger” of addiction, which Sarah describes in her piece and Gabor Maté writes of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, has many faces. We are all searching for a mission; yearning for fulfillment. We are all the same.

– Peter

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  1. One alcoholic sharing their experience, strength, and hope with another is how the program of AA works. I loved that about the story and she does a wonderful job describing her alcoholism. However, I take issue with the authors repeated claims of the notion that addicts are liars and “half-truth” tellers even in recovery. As a recovering alcoholic myself, I will readily admit that I did a tremendous amount of lying and sneaking to enable my drug and alcohol usage. However, as part of my recovery, and my ongoing desire to practice the principles of the program daily, I can tell you that continuing to lie would lead me to drink again, and to drink is to die for me. AA is a program of RIGOROUS HONESTY. We must be completely truthful to all we come in contact with or we endanger our sobriety. To those who practice a solid program, honesty is the new way, a necessity, something that scratches at our craw if we waiver even slightly. I would wager that an alcoholic with a solid program of recovery would be one of the more honest people you would meet.

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