How Dare It Not Be True! Weighing Information in Our Information Age

I recently watched Moneyball--which I mostly enjoyed. Then I went online to discover more about the story. As can be expected, I encountered a website that said (I summarize):
Oh, sure, the movie is fine, but of course, it isn't exactly what happened. Hollywood is trying to pull a fast one on us again by changing things--the movie brings in an audience but does it at the expense of the truth; Hollywood is just perpetuating falsehoods.
Yadda yadda yadda.

This character was invented!!
I find this reaction puzzling, mostly because I've always had the opposite reaction: I never believe anything people tell me. Consequently, I'm always pleasantly surprised when a Hollywood movie turns out to be more real than not.

I felt the same way about House, M.D.--okay, so doctors don't actually run those tests, but golly, who knew those were even real tests to begin with?!

I don't consider myself especially cynical. Skeptical maybe. Not cynical. My disbelief in any particular piece of information is not (sorry, House) based on the assumption that everybody lies.

Instead, I appreciate the difficulty of disseminating information consistently and accurately.

Information is constantly pouring at us from various outlets. And all of it is delivered by people with particular invested interests. (I happen to hate the word "bias" because it implies that it is BAD for people to have an invested interest in a particular perspective; it isn't BAD; it's normal.) I might be inclined to trust some people over others--the scientists in a lab doing experiments over the politician who talks about said experiments. But even the scientists have invested interests--for money, for fame, simply to be right (hence the Cold Fusion Scandal).

This invested interest doesn't mean that the information is automatically wrong. As stated above, I'm not a cynic and don't much care for the conspiracy-theory approach to life that refutes anything that doesn't line up with a pre-determined set of variables. Although I am strictly speaking an empirical rationalist, I remain a religious person because it forces me to consider a set of variables that might upset the applecart. Which doesn't mean I do upset the applecart--I'm far more interested in seeing how and if the variables can be balanced.

Which is another way of saying I don't think Bigfoot exists, and I'm going to run with that for now, but I wouldn't be terribly surprised if he showed up.

Actually, I subscribe to the Mythbusters' approach, which states that what has currently been proven is what we know. Except I like to remind myself how quickly such knowledge can change; just consider what people know now versus what people knew then and what people in the future will know compared to what people know now.

We can always learn more.

And that's basically where I always end up: we can always learn more. Getting twisted into knots over Moneyball comes from perceiving information as static and one-sourced. It's the same as parents freaking out because the child is reading fairytales from Disney, and Disney is just too, too bourgeois and violent and sexist, blah, blah, blah.

Why not read Disney and Anderson and Perrault and Lang and even Grimm (if the little tyke can take it)? Why not read Michael Lewis's book and Bill James's book and watch the movie and research Billy Beane on the Internet?

It is customary for such alarmist writers as the one summarized above to contend that only THEY do such research--they are writing for all those poor slubs out there who take the movie on faith. People in my Master's program would make the same argument about dumb poor people who are bamboozled by big business advertisements.

Except . . .

I'm left with the impression that the people who worry about this stuff are far more susceptible to the one-source-one-argument idea than the viewers and readers they supposedly fret about.


Anonymous said...

It's amazing how many people take what they see on TV or in movies (or on stage) as gospel truth. I recall Mom commenting about Bill and Jolyne Hatch performing in the Schenectady Light Opera Company's production of "Oklahoma!" Bill, a handsome tenor, was the male lead and Jolyne, more of a character actress, played Aunt Eller. Some audience members were SHOCKED to learn that they were actually husband and wife. I've read negative comments about religious (educational/promotional) films, complaining that people will accept them as "how it really was." This has always surprised me, since each one is an interpretation strongly influenced by the targeted audience and where the director/actors/producer are coming from. Yes, they may strive for doctrinal and/or historical accuracy, but it's hard to completely divorce ourselves from our personal backgrounds, beliefs, and culture, even if subconsciously. (On the other hand, my view of John Adams will forever be shaped by "1776"!)

Eugene said...

Emperor is a good example of a "historical" drama where a little more fiction would have served the available facts much better.