Comment on Kloor – Trusted Influentials – Rising in the reasonableness ranking


Science journalist Keith Kloor, has an article up at his blog Collide-a-Scape at the Discover.com website titled: Trusted communicators who shape the GMO Discourse.  Kloor seems to be a fairly sensible fellow, and is a journalist who is generally rising in the Meme Merchant’s quality blogger index.

Lately, KK has been on a sort of anti anti-GMO tear, that is trying to roll back some of the fear, hysteria and disinformation that is surrounding the entire anti-gmo movement.  In today’s case he talks about the role of people he terms “influentials” in shaping the debate within the anti-GMO movement:

Influentials are the information brokers that have major media platforms and big receptive audiences. For example, on the GMO issue, top influentials include Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Dr. Oz, and Vandana Shiva. Each of these influentials have been responsible for spreading or endorsing nonsense about GMOs via social media and other highly trafficked venues.

Its not the point of this blog post to take on the topic of Genetically Modified Organisms in general, or even the anti-GMO movement in particular.  I am much more interested in the notion of “Trusted Communicators”, why do we trust them?  And why do we continue to trust them even if they have been demonstrated to be wrong on many occasions about what they are saying?

Trusted is not the same as trustworthy, as I’m sure we can all agree – at least in principle.  But when it come to your own cherished beliefs however…

Kloor quotes Princeton social scientist Linda Fiske:

People trust people they think are like themselves. This is human nature. They trust people who they think share their values and goals.

I would paraphrase Ms Fiske slightly, ‘People trust people who think like themselves’. People like having their world view reinforced, its very natural.  People don’t like cognitive dissonance, they don’t like doubt or uncertainty.  An excess of doubt or uncertainty can make decision making difficult, or even day to day functioning.  People walk out the door every day with the expectation that they will not be run over by the bus or a planetesimals will fall out of the sky and wipe out civilization.  We tend to reserve doubt for critical situations, and ones where we expect to need it.

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