The Evils of Misinformation

Crossing fingers
November 25th, 2019

Information and Decision-Making

Our actions are based on information about the world around us.

When we decide what industry to go into, what university to attend, or what company to work for, we are using the information at our disposal to make decisions.

We make decisions with different information.

If you want to improve your decision, you can change your information.

If you want to change someone’s decision, you can change their information.

If someone wants to change your decision, they can change your information.

Friends do this with each other when they tell them about a cool new restaurant or a television show.

Politicians, corporations and the media, meanwhile, all do this with the general public on a mass scale.

The Morality of Information Change

Is the process of information change bad?

No, it is a necessary part of life.

The primary method of information change—information exchange—is what makes us a social species.

The secondary method of information change—information curation—allows us to determine (and help others determine) what information to focus on in a world of information overload.

Information change is good when the approach is to enable informed consent, and when the information is true and representative.

Information change is bad when the approach is to manipulate perception, and when the information is false or unrepresentative.

To control information beyond consented curation is to control decision-making and deny agency.

Control prevents people from doing the right things to improve their lives, while tricking them into thinking they are.

Consequences of Choice

Actions have consequences. Inaction has consequences. Positive and negative.

Changing someone’s information will not only change their choices. It will change the positive and negative consequences in their lives.

In smaller scales, information change can affect individual decisions.

In larger scales, information change can affect entire frames of mind.

Homeopathy and Medicine

Homeopathy, a practice that does not improve health, is often presented as an alternative to medicine, which does improve health.

But alternative medicine is not medicine and it is not an alternative.

One may ask why homeopathy is so bad if it is what people want. Maybe they know it doesn’t have any affect and they just want a placebo.

This is mistaken for several reasons.

First, it is impossible to consent to a placebo that you don’t know is a placebo. Those who purchase homeopathic products are consenting to a product that was advertised as being effective.

Second, people will often say they’re using a product even though they know it probably doesn’t work, but they are typically not being truthful. Deep down, they really believe and hope it works. And to those who question them, they don’t want to argue.

Third, homeopathy prevents people from seeking real treatments. For every homeopathic hoax that one consumes, one receives a dopamine hit from believing one is doing something medically productive, and one doesn’t look any further for help.

Fourth, homeopathy cultivates a mindset that is antagonistic to evidence-based treatment. This effect is the hardest to measure, but it is there. People who believe in scams like homeopathy are more likely to believe in other scams like astrology, and make the lives of themselves and others worse as a result.

The reality of homeopathy is it is a non-treatment that is often undertaken instead of medical treatments.

When this happens, people die. Steve Jobs was probably one of those people.

Thus, anyone who peddles a non-treatment as a replacement for a treatment is directly responsible for people dying—on a large scale.

Government and Politics

It is an unfortunate reality of government and politics that one needs to be prepared for conflict.

Conflict is not desirable, but if one is not prepared for conflict, one will inevitably be subjected to conflict.

Conflict is very rarely warranted, and should only be taken up in the gravest of situations and with the clearest of justifications.

Conflict is a decision, and decisions are made with information.

Thus, entering into conflict is directly based on information.

If a government is to engage in conflict, it should be because it has judged it as necessary to improve the lives of its constituents and ideally humanity as a whole.

If this is the case, there should be an extremely self-evident justification.

The difficulty arrises when justifications for conflict are not very strong and are based on limited information.

This can often cause unjustified conflict that makes both the citizenry and humanity worse off as a result.

Governments can only produce good outcomes with good intelligence.

If a government has bad intelligence then it produces bad outcomes.

Officials will not know the right thing to do, and they won’t be able to do it effectively.

In 2002, the United States began waging a pointless war in Iraq based upon not only bad information, but deliberate misinformation.

As a result, the 2002 bill “To Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq” passed the House of Representatives 296-to-133 and passed the Senate 77-to-23.

The war in Iraq resulted in the deaths of 650,000 people and in the diminished living conditions of millions more.

This was a war that was built on lies and misinformation. And it was a war with grave consequences.

Information is Everything

Everything we do in the world is dependent on information.

Every decision we make, every outcome we achieve, comes down to information.

Bad decisions and bad outcomes, meanwhile, directly result from misinformation.

In some cases this causality is easy to see. In other cases it is hard.

But, regardless, it is our duty to recognize the importance of the quality of information, and the consequences and moral ills of misinformation.

To appropriately inform is to enable well-being.

To misinform is to cause harm.

All is information.