We live in a world where we can no longer be sure that the information we receive is good information. Sometimes not true, usually spun to a point of view, and almost always incomplete. That serves us poorly.
Years ago someone told me that the media does not tell us what to think, they merely tell us what to think about. That may have been true once, but it seems wrong now. Today we are implicitly told what to think. From the media side of things, that is how they get attention. Given the way the world is unfolding, the mainstream media is at risk of becoming irrelevant. Soon to be replaced by the hyperbole of the web. What then?
All communication is two-sided. Sender and receiver. Maybe selfish sender and careless receiver. The only defense to the spin and exaggeration is smarter receivers. Learn to be skeptical. Learn what viewing point is about. Hold standards. Disregard people and organizations that try to deceive you.
Try this as a test.
Suppose you believe in man-made climate change and accordingly believe the oil companies are instruments of the devil. A way to discredit them is to argue they are unethical, price-gouging monsters. This article from the Toronto Star, republished by Huffington Post will show you the idea. Canada Gas Prices vs Oil Prices Show That Drivers Are Getting Screwed It includes a handsome graph that shows that from the end of 2010 until the end of 2015, crude oil prices fell much more than the price of gasoline. Oil companies are evil.
The information conveyed by the graphics is true. It is the implicit meaning that should be examined.
The more complete truth is that gasoline prices include expensive things other than the price of crude. That component includes, the exchange rate to convert the crude price from American to Canadian dollars, government fuel taxes, transportation both to the refinery and from there to the station, refining costs, dealer margins, credit card costs, and on the top, the sales tax of 13%. In Ontario, if crude cost $0.00 per barrel, gasoline would still be around 50 cents per liter.
If the price of crude falls by a third, that only affects part, about 60% or so, of the gasoline cost components. So we should reasonably expect a gas price decline of about 20% plus the sales tax and credit card costs on that. Maybe 24%, and that is not so far from what we notice in the graph.
As a critical recipient, when someone shows you a single variable comparison, always ask if there are more components that are not present.
Now it is possible that there is nothing malicious in this. To be kind, we should follow advice first presented by Mark Twain.
“Never attribute to malice anything that can be adequately explained by stupidity.”
One of three things is true of the media today.
- They are stupid and cannot do simple analysis or check facts.
- Their ideology trumps reality
- They think you are stupid and will believe anything.
You control only number 3. Exercise that control. Find meaning. Ask for help if you need it.
Don Shaughnessy arranges life insurance for people who understand the value of a life insured estate. He can be reached at The Protectors Group, a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency in Peterborough, Ontario. In previous careers, he has been a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.
Please be in touch if I can help you. firstname.lastname@example.org 866-285-7772