Without Context, Nothing Makes Sense

If you read headlines only, you won’t get context or even the idea of it. Headlines are to get attention and they sometimes don’t even connect to the story that follows. Headlines are a point of view of the media source. They exist to get clicks.

How context works

If you have worked with financial reporting you will have quickly discovered that numbers by themselves are meaningless. $10,000,000 is a nice number. If the context were my bank account, it would be spectacularly good. If it were Apple’s bank account, spectacularly bad. It isn’t the number that matters. It must have context to have any meaning at all.

In the fall of 1967 I saw a young comedian on stage at my university. George Carlin went on to an amazing career. One of his special acts later, talked about context. In sports of all places. It deals with relationships. “Here are some partial score – Notre Dame 14. Yankees 5, and in a close one, Lakers 110.”

Meaning lives in the relationship, not in the numbers.

I like the idea of life-simplifying assumptions.

If you are travelling around the media or social media you will find many, (nearly all?,) reports that provide no context. Covid lends itself to that because there are so many possible numbers to present. Deaths in September were X. Interesting in its way but it would have been more useful if they had indicated X was bigger than the number of deaths in September 2020.

Why would they avoid that? Context leads meaning. If there is context there are automatically questions. The first question anyone with an IQ above room temperature would ask, “Wait a minute. Vaccines are everywhere, how come there are more deaths?” A question to which there is no answer that fits the narrative.

I assume that anything presented without context is done to convince me of something that is not completely true. If you take some detail out of its reasonable context, you can use the truth to lie. The best of all worlds for some.

When you should redirect your attention.

  1. Facts are presented without context.
  2. Unnamed sources provide the message
  3. Hearsay of a third-hand expert’s opinion is presented as fact.
  4. It’s too spectacular to be true.
  5. It follows exactly some preferred narrative that has not been proven true.
  6. If a comparison is presented, but the context of the two comparatives is different. My friend Brian MacKenzie sent me an example of this point.  “Age-Adjusted Mortality Is at 2004 Levels. Yet They Tell Us Covid Is Worse Than the 1918 Flu.” More deaths and relatively more deaths are not the same thing. The population in 2020 is 3.3 times more than 1918. The death count should be much higher. Comparing 1918 to 2020 is helpful too.

If you see a tipoff for a lie or half truth stop paying attention. The life-simplifying advantage is you don’t ever need to watch network or cable news. You might miss a little, but if you have trusted sources on the internet you’ll find it.

The takeaway.

Context matters more than numbers.

Develop trusted sources.

Use common sense. The spectacular is seldom completely true.

Interpreted expert opinion is valueless.

There is nothing that demands the media tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Similarly, there is nothing that requires you to take them seriously.

Watch Flip Wilson – George Carlin – Funny News   It’s a three part series.


I help people have more retirement income and larger, more liquid estates.

Call in Canada 705-927-4770, or email don@moneyfyi.com

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