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Thread: Scott Adams on the Media

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    Default Scott Adams on the Media

    Occassionally I take a gander at Scott Adams' blog. Most know him as the cartoonist who created Dilbert, but his background is much more robust than that. He first caught my eye when he was explaining the Trump phenomenon, which baffled the left and the right. He was one of (if not the first) to say that he thought Trump would win in 2016. Aside from Dilbert, Scott Adams has a bachelors in economics, an MBA, and even training in hypnosis. He's an unusual character with often novel and unique insights, which are great for spurring thought.

    I've often thought one of our problems is the direction the media has taken. While I acknowledge profit motive, I'm impressed with the clarity Scott Adams frames it. I also think he is missing the ideological bent (i.e.: conservatives and liberals each frame news to benefit their ideologies and parties).

    Anyway, the below is an excerpt from his latest book.

    Our old understanding of reality is rapidly dissolving. Fake news and conspiracy theories have become the building blocks of what we mistakenly believe to be the world we live in. Any two of us can look at the same evidence and have entirely different interpretations of what it all means. Politicians, businesses, and even scientists routinely mislead us. Not always, and not necessarily intentionally, but often enough that we generally canít be sure what is true and what is not.

    Recently I saw a debate on television about the cost of single-payer health insurance in the United States. One side said it would cost $32 trillion over ten years. The other side said it would actually save money. Thatís at least a $32 trillion difference in how the two sides are seeing reality. For reference, $32 trillion is approximately three times the GDP of China. You canít get much further apart than that in terms of agreeing on reality.

    The best way to get the sort of attention that drives viewership and profits today is with provocative fake news, which in my way of thinking includes not only factual inaccuracies but also biased coverage and emotion-based presentations. Bias usually reveals itself with something I call opinion stacking. That involves news programming that involves panels of pundits who hold the same biased opinions, joined by only one relatively unpersuasive pundit for the other side.

    The technological change that broke the news business was our ability to measure audience reaction to every headline and every variation of every story. Once you can reliably measure the income potential of different approaches to the news, the people who manage the news have to do what works best for profitability or else they are abandoning their responsibilities to shareholders. On top of that, executive compensation is determined by profit performance. From the moment technology allowed us to know which kinds of content influenced viewership the most, the old business model of the news industry was dead media walking. From that point through today, the business model of the press changed from presenting information to manipulating brains.

    I want to stress that no one in this story is evil. Everyone is acting according to the well-accepted rules of capitalism, trying to maximize the outcomes for shareholders and their own careers. The main thing that changed was our ability to measure what kinds of content worked best. And when you can measure what works, and you are managing a public business, you are highly incentivized to follow profits, so long as doing so is legal, and in this case it is. Ethics is a separate and important issue, but it isnít predictive in the context of capitalism. If something is legal and profitable, it will happen, a lot.

    The inevitable outcome of the press having a business model that rewards brain manipulation versus accuracy is what I call political warming. As the press becomes increasingly skilled at stimulating the emotion centers in our brains, one should expect the public to be in a continuous state of fight-or-flight anxiety. Weíre more scared and angry than I imagine we ever have been, at least since World War II. And that means bigger storms ahead in the form of protests and divisiveness.

    As I write this book, the news is full of appeals for more civility in politics. Nearly everyone recognizes that the country is becoming more divided and we are turning on each other in a way we have never seen before. The loserthink way of looking at the situation is that we need to try harder to be nice to each other. But that prescription misdiagnoses the problem. People did not suddenly become different in a fundamental way. The business model of the press manipulated our brains until our emotions overwhelmed whatever traces of rationality we started with. You canít fix that by trying harder to be nice. The influence of the press is too strong, and all because they learned to measure the impact of their actions with extraordinary precision.

    In such a world, where truth routinely loses to emotion-based, click-bait versions of reality, how can you know what is true and what is not? And more importantly, how can you act for the greater goodóor even your own goodówhen you canít reliably sort the truth from the lies?

    If you buy into the full-scary narratives promoted by either the political left or the political right, youíre probably experiencing loserthink. A more useful way to think of the political news is that nearly every major story is exaggerated to the point of falsehood, with the intention of scaring the public. If you think the frightened feeling you are getting from the news is legitimate and appropriate, you probably donít understand how the business model of the news has changed. Twenty years ago, if the media said something dangerous and scary was heading our way, you had to treat that seriously. Today, the news provides one fright after another, but an understanding of why they do it helps you avoid loserthink.

    All the doom-and-gloom in the press, and on social media, could give you the impression the world is in big trouble. The reality is almost directly the opposite: things have never been better for humanity, and the future looks incredible too.

    Adams, Scott. Loserthink (pp. 20-23). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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    Default Re: Scott Adams on the Media

    I follow Scott Adams since Dilbert, he made me happier at the office with his Dilbert books. His newer books give a very interesting approach to persuasion.
    I have been watching him daily for five years on his periscope (now also live in Youtube), I absolutely recommend him unless the viewer suffers a severe case of TDS ;-) : https://youtu.be/eeEd0c7JvWQ

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