Your relationship with information is one of the most important in your life. In the modern age, this relationship is under constant assault. Accurate and timely information is critically important to your happiness and well-being. Unreliable information is just another form of “Toxicity in the Digital Age.” You are covertly being harmed by this new toxicity in most areas of your life. In intellectual operating law number six, “Your Mind is Truth Seeking,” we learned that “truth is survival.” We are no longer navigating the hostile environments of our ancestors, yet this axiom still applies; truth is survival. Despite this revelation, we are surrounded by forces that are corrupting this vitally important commodity. Fake news, the information explosion, special interests, clickbait, information half-life, and the reproducibility crisis are making it increasingly more difficult to have a healthy and productive relationship with information.
Developing a sustainable connection with this new explosion of knowledge is not an easy undertaking. You can access all the world’s information in the palm of your hand and disseminate an idea internationally with the touch of a screen. You alone must determine the quality and the necessity of the information you consume. Are you ingesting junk food or are you on a sustainable, long-term diet of healthy and relevant information? While access to information has grown exponentially, the quality must be constantly and thoroughly vetted. Accuracy and relevance are critically important to every aspect of your life.
Expansion Mindset explores this relationship with information in an effective and comprehensive way with a concept called consciousness processing. Before we get to the solution, let’s get granular on the problem. You may be experiencing some profound blind spots in your life.
The Information Explosion – Calling all Experts
We are living in the age of fake news and information overload. Knowledge is doubling every 12-13 months. Medical experts report that the half-life of scientific information is approximately four years. This means that half of the information a medical student learns as a freshman is obsolete by the time she graduates. Stephen B. Hawking, Ph.D., emphasizes this point in his most recent and final book when he writes that it will be impossible for anyone to keep up in their respective fields. He anticipates that soon, a theoretical physics paper will be published every 11 seconds. How does this surprising fact alter our perception of experts? How many professionals will be replaced by search engine algorithms? There is one thing that is very clear – the concept of expert is evolving and must be redefined as well as our relationship with information.
The Reproducibility Crisis
To add to the problem, the credibility of the major sciences has been severely tarnished. There is a reproducibility crisis in the fields of medicine, pharmacology, nutrition science, and psychology. Some experts report that up to 70% of published scientific literature is completely inaccurate. The problem is so bad, that in 2009, Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, was compelled to write the following:
It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor.
Dr. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, echoed a similar sentiment when he commented:
The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue.
Perhaps the most disturbing insight comes from Dr. John Ioannidis. He is the C.F. Rehnborg Professor at Stanford University. He is on the record saying:
Most of the published medical information which doctors rely on is flawed.
These are astounding revelations regarding your relationship with information. Science has lost its way and this problem is now well-known in the medical community. The deterioration in the credibility of science is multifactorial. Much of it has to do with the difficulty of clinical research. Epidemiological studies of nutrition may be the most difficult and the most unreliable. Another confounding factor is incentives. Who is funding the research has a dramatic effect on the results. Before we explore the important topic of incentives, let’s take a brief look at what is undoubtedly the worst field of all.
The Worst Field
You may have had one of those moments when a credible source says something that totally changes how you think. You know what they said is correct because they have a disincentive to expose this truth. Listening to an interview with Dr. Paul Bloom was such a moment for me. He is the Regan scholar in the department of psychology at Yale University. The interviewer asked him how his professional career has informed his personal life; marriage, raising children, etc. What he said was unsettling:
My career in psychology has done very little to inform my personal life.
The analogy he used was that we are in the pre-Copernican phase in psychology and psychiatry. He compared his field to theoretical physics. The people in psychology are just as smart as the physicists, but human behavior has proven to be a much more difficult problem to solve than uncovering the secrets of the physical universe.
Astounding – so, what is the worst field for generating reproducible and predictable results? By way of this preamble, you may be thinking that it’s psychology. This field is in the midst of a reproducibility crisis. Much of the stable datums upon which they have built their profession are crumbling. To their credit, they are coming to grips with these challenges and correcting the problem.
There is a loosely related field that makes psychology seem as rock-solid as 2+2=4 – that field is personal development. This field is a scary maze of emotion, laced with fiction enveloped by some of the worst incentives imaginable. I outlined much of these structural conflicts in an article, “The Personal Development Seminar Trap.”
The self-help industry is not about self-help at all.
The vast majority of people are worse-off from the experience than before they started. The self-help icons are excellent at activating positive emotions; they then encourage people to spend an exorbitant amount of money to get to the ever-elusive “next level.” There is not a credible attempt, that I am aware of, at being predictable or reproducible; they don’t even monitor results. It boggles the mind that no one has done an exhaustive expose on this 11-billion-dollar industry.
The newest and potentially most dangerous trend in the personal-development industry is life coaching. Their relationship with information is typically corrupt. There are no standards, no licensing, and anyone can become a life coach. Dozens of high-profile online coaches have recently popped-up, specializing in coaching coaches on how to be coaches and how to make money coaching. They tell them, “every coach needs a coach.” “You don’t need to be an expert, all you need is a passion to help people and to read a couple of books.” True story. These charlatans are bilking people for millions yearly and giving the industry a bad name. There are many excellent teachers and distinguished coaching schools. Unfortunately, these voices are being drowned out by all the noise. There is far more heartbreak than triumph in the personal-development industry. To avoid these pitfalls, you must understand the incentives.
This is Part One of a two-part series. Find Part Two here.