Fact checking, a very fashionable term, is one of the tools at the disposal of critical thinking. It allows, in particular, to quickly verify the hidden face of a situation or the veracity of a statement. It has become indispensable today, whatever the subject.
This article is largely composed of an excerpt from the first part of my book where, as if we were not sufficiently influenced by our biases, I deconstruct a certain number of beliefs that influence our choices: “Overcome Influence And Thrive - The Career Change Program for Employees”. This will allow you to see how fact checking, even more than elsewhere, is essential in career change.
I will just deal with this subject in the form of concrete and real examples. As always, the amalgam or the simple bullshit is a formidable tool of misinformation and the time needed to correct them plays in favor of their authors who can say almost anything as long as they are not part of a scientific approach and their work will never be reread by a committee of experts in the same field, and that most people will not verify. This is also an effect of authority bias.
Authority bias is a tendency to overestimate the value of a person’s opinion because of their status, eloquence, type of argument, tone or image in relation to us. Many external elements can influence it, such as the tendency to repeat certain key phrases two or three times in a speech or presentation. It is a manipulative mechanism that contributes to producing an authority bias towards one’s audience. For example, Simon Sinek has understood this and uses this technique in his speeches (available on YouTube), which allows him not to have to justify what he says and not to argue, and many people make the mistake of believing him. I made an article about his method and what he says that you can find here Critical review of Simon Sinek Start With Why book and concept et Critical review of Simon Sinek Find Your Why, a dangerous method. In his videos, we can see the power of verbal and non-verbal communication, which means that when you say stupid things with great confidence and by using certain techniques of persuasion or manipulation, you can, on the one hand, forge beliefs, and, on the other hand, pose as a leader, some great heads of state have adopted these techniques throughout the ages.
Nowadays, we are witnessing a dramatic shift in the conditions under which authority bias appears towards the uncontrollable. I have not looked for any scientific work demonstrating this, but I think that simply by observing it, it is easy to see that we have gone from the imaginary status linked to the actions, the mediatization, the social status or the field of expertise of the individual at the origin of the opinion, to the simple fact of finding an interlocutor who expresses himself on the web. Posting content, in the form of an article or a video, would immediately establish the individual as a “Knowing” as long as he is able to explain, with relative mastery and sometimes even without arguments, a point of detail or his experience on anything.
Of course, this authority bias is exercised differently depending on the individual and the nature of their critical thinking, but I wouldn’t be surprised if at least 70% of the people on the planet suffer the consequences of this shift.
I would take for my first example the case of beliefs.
In the field of counseling, many concepts or attempts to explain problems are based on beliefs. When a belief limits you or generates ineffective processes, at some point, you have to question yourself, find another solution to finally make things right and solve the problem for good. But the problem here is that most of the time, as the speakers want to make your work easier and propose solutions that fit everyone, they replace one belief with another and finally you don’t question the one that replaces the first one! We will see together how this happens.
Let’s move very quickly to the example of a limiting belief, general to begin with, but which refers to the question of work, and which can be found in a PDF document on the site tccmontreal.com, accessed in 2020 :
This belief and the advice given afterwards seem particularly ridiculous to me, but to illustrate my point it will be perfect.
Dysfunctional (and therefore erroneous and problematic) belief: “Human happiness can be achieved through inertia and inaction by allowing oneself to live passively.”
I’ve never heard anything like it before.
The detail they offer: “In the name of a so-called ‘quality of life‘, many people avoid getting involved in large-scale projects requiring long-term work or effort; they forget that it is most often by accomplishing or surpassing oneself that human beings obtain their most important rewards in life.
—‘Getting married, having children? You don’t think about that, it’s way too much trouble! ’
—‘Going through college to get a degree in several years? I’d rather work and make money right now! ’
—‘Exercise, play sports, keep me in shape? It’s easier to watch TV! ’
Now here’s what’s offered instead: “Best-fit belief: Human beings are generally happier in life when they engage in activities to which they devote much of their energy and creativity. ”
We can summarize this statement without really changing its meaning: to be happy, we must devote our energy to a creative activity.
Really? What is the basis for this idea? Are these examples relevant? Are they sufficient to explain or validate such a thing? Does this work for any creative activity? Isn’t there another indispensable dimension like will, pleasure or sense?
Nothing that is said demonstrates anything.
Even if a study in psychology decreed such an absurdity, it would still be necessary to have access to it, to read it oneself, to criticize it and attack it from all possible angles, to read the critical opinions of other eminent psychologists on this study, to verify in an empirical way its validity at least.
Why shouldn’t I be able to be happy in idleness or in complete meditation if that makes sense to me? Why am I being told how to be happy? Does this imply that if I were happy in idleness or meditation, reading this sentence would call that happiness into question? Would I still be able to do it afterwards?
It is a form of influence and manipulation.
So of course, you can choose to adhere to fashionable beliefs, but you should have sensible reasons for believing in something if you want to approach some truth/reality in your existence. I assume that living in illusions and denial is not what you are looking for.
Nowadays, articles, books, conferences and certain theories based on belief systems are derived, at best, from a snippet of a conclusion or a tiny part of a research summary, sometimes with a twist, without questioning the research in question for a moment, nor taking into account the existence of research that would prove the contrary, or other professional criticism.
I’ll give you a concrete example of this a little later.
We live in an era where almost everyone can express what they think freely, it is the jungle of ideas and theories and it is especially the jungle of beliefs.
Beware of foolish beliefs being replaced by even more foolish ones.
So fortunately, we are all already vigilant and obviously do not believe just anyone on any subject. That said, many self-proclaimed specialists or experts can influence us more easily, thanks to a better media coverage or apparent reputation. They are then in a clear position of “supposed to know”, a psychoanalytical term that refers to the trust factor. You are more likely to trust someone who is in a position of knowledge, which reflects the image of a competent professional, at least to you.
This supposedly knowledgeable subject criticizes one belief while proposing another, you let your guard down, and that’s when he replaces that belief with bullshit, as in the example above. I remind you that this example comes from a psychologists’ blog.
Unfortunately, many world-renowned professionals are also guilty of this.
Here is an example, also taken from a passage in my book where I am deconstructing most of the things people focus on when choosing a new career horizon instead of focusing on meaning and pleasure:
The question of salary is often central in orientation or reorientation, it carries meaning, it contributes to defining our value symbolically, whether we like it or not, but it is obviously not enough to give meaning to work. At least not in the long term.
If that doesn’t give meaning to one’s work, at least not on its own, what is left? The correlation with happiness.
Money makes you happy is a well-established belief, and this, despite all the scientific studies on the subject relayed by the press, let’s dig.
Bolles, Richard N. What Color Is Your Parachute? 2020 (p. 99) tells us about the following study to explain the fact that money does make one happy. This study was published in the American journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and it seems to contradict, in part, the proverb that money does not make people happy. Conducted by Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002, and his colleague from Princeton University, Angus Deaton, the study is entitled: High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being. It focuses on the well-being of 450,000 Americans surveyed in 2008 and 2009 for the Gallup-Healthways index.
If we stop at the title alone, the study speaks of the impact on the evaluation of one’s life and not of happiness! And then it would be essential in this study or in Bolles’ book to define what happiness is, but this is not the case.
Bolles gives us this analysis: “the less money they made, the more unhappy they tended to be, day after day. No surprise there. And, obviously, the more money they made, measured in terms of percentage improvement, the happier they tended to be, as measured by the frequency and intensity of moments of smiling, laughter, affection, and joy all day long, vs. moments of sadness, worry, and stress. So, money does buy happiness. But only up to a point.”
So it reads word for word: “So money buys happiness. Up to a point. ”
This has also been written in these terms in the press.
Yet, in the authors’ abstract, we read: “We conclude that high income buys life satisfaction but not happiness, and that low income is associated both with low life evaluation and low emotional well-being. ”
This means that having a good salary increases your PERCEPTION of having a SATISFACTORY life, but NOT HAPPINESS.
It is related to our beliefs and the stories we tell ourselves.
We can also read in the summary of the study: “The question of whether ‘money buys happiness’ comes up frequently in discussions of subjective well-being in both scholarly debates and casual conversation. The topic has been addressed in a vast and inconclusive research literature.
In other words, we have not yet been able to prove that there is a link between money and happiness.
And yet, it appears that this is so deeply rooted in our beliefs that even authors and works of the reputation of Bolles’ book, which in no way defines its quality, apparently demonstrate this and thereby reinforce these beliefs.
And without a critical mind, without going to check the study by yourself, you get fooled. Or at least things are distorted, twisted differently.
To be able to affirm that money makes happiness, one would have to compare individuals with the same character, the same personality, the same desires, ideals, values, the same situation, the same job, the same house, a wife and children with the same characters, behaviors and problems, ditto for work colleagues and their bosses, and everything else. I’m sure you understand what I’m getting at.
You can’t isolate a variable like salary in a controllable way and be able to draw a meaningful generalization from it like, ‘people who earn more money are happier.’
Critical thinking and fact checking are your two best weapons against all the nonsense you will read here and there, on guidance, career transition, guidance methods, but it is very time consuming. Cleansing our brain of all the bullshit we have accepted to believe would take a lot of time, if not impossible. On the other hand, if you do this work for any new information, and you accept to stay on something like ‘it’s not sure’, you will gain. I confess I don’t understand this allergy to uncertainty. Of course, it is about reassurance, but I find it more reassuring to accept reality and therefore uncertainty than to take beliefs for certainties.
Fact checking on beliefs does not stop at the small world of guidance and the pursuit of happiness and it is increasingly vital to apply it to everything we hear or read in our daily lives.
To remain conscientiously skeptical and to remain on uncertainties will not save you from anxiety, but from an illusion.