Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Do your homework!

I have, for the most part, never just believe something I hear or read. Sure, if the source is known to me then the face value of the information in question is considerable. Unfortunately I believe most people are easily impressed by credentials, and position, and so no further back up is required. This free pass extends to the media as well. Most will see something on tv, read it in a paper or a book, and truth is assumed. I believe it is critical we teach our children to question, inquire, probe and challenge things. There is a logical approach to determining the validity of something and it is called deduction. Deduction can be defined as reasoning from the general to specific and "induction" as reasoning from the specific to the general. To present an argument using induction is often easier.

For example, your doctor tells you the dark spot on your skin is nothing to worry about. The conclusion here is that the dark spot is in fact not a problem. Is that reasonable? NO, it's not! While this example might seem like it moves from general to specific it is in fact induction and flawed. In induction the premises of a conclusion (or argument) if true make the truth of the conclusion probable. In this case the premise is the person that said the spot is not a problem is a doctor so it is probable his opinion is correct. But, since this dark spot could be a serious health issue (the conclusion matters) deduction should be applied. In deduction the truth of the premises are thought to guarantee the conclusion. Applying deduction you would want to know things like: Is your doctor an oncologist or dermatologist? Has the spot changed color over time? Has the spot grown or changed shape over time? At this point I would still call this case inductive, but what would flip it to deductive, all on it's own, would be lab results from a biopsy of the spot.

So, why do most people just take the word of their doctor, auto mechanic, building contractor, or a politician? Of course the ramifications of being wrong must be considered and when the stakes aren't high induction is perfectly suited. However, the stakes are not always obvious when the topic is political and the source is a politician.

Let's look at another example. The Democrats come up with their own Small Business Index and this month they use it to say that the small business outlook is the worst it has been in 8 yrs. Many will read this and assume it is so. The result could be hundreds or thousands who read it decide to not buy that franchise they were considering, or not to start their dream to open a restaurant. Others may think this is systemic to the entire economy so they will pass on that new car or tv purchase. It could, in fact, have a tremendous effect by paralyzing individuals whose participation in the economy is in fact what makes it bad or good. So if we do a little homework, we can try to achieve a deductive conclusion on the state of the small business outlook. My attempt at that started with a good blogger source on the topic The Entrepreneurial Mind. But, you should do your own homework until induction supports a conclusion, or better yet deduction makes it a guarantee. As an aside...why does a political party need their own business index? Purely to slant the conclusion since its out of their field of expertise!

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