In 2014 the Cheescake industry hit at an all-time high in revenue with 1.98 billion dollars. This is the highest it had ever been and a hundred million dollars higher than the previous year. This had numerous unforeseen effects on the nation. Namely how it drove down crime all over the USA. 2014 was the lowest crime has ever been since the 1970s. As such we can see how cheesecake single-handedly brought down crime rates and we should purchase more.
There is an issue here. Everything I just said, was true -you can look it up yourself if you want to- yet that message actually has nothing supporting it, despite all the facts I mentioned. This is the real issue here: how easy it is to take statistics and data, and to twist it into whatever you’d like. I didn’t have to tell a single lie in actuality and yet I can achieve the same thing.
The solution to avoid falling for this is simple. Its just critical thinking and not taking everything at face value. “But wait, aren’t you minimizing the issue with a simple solution?” some of you may ask. That’s a good question, it shows you’re thinking critically.
It’s true, there is more to the equation then this, but there is always more to the equation, so lets start simple.
Of course, this specific example is relatively harmless in and of itself. But twisting the truth isn’t only used for obvious examples like this. In fact, most are built to be as subtle as possible; after all, who wants to be seen as a liar? As you’d expect no one wants to. In fact the whole reason why they add these statistics in the first place is so that they’re believed and seen as trustworthy, regardless of whether they actually are.
This comes into play all around us, whether it be news anchors or friends, influencers or salesmen. Because at the end of the day, everyone wants to sell us on something, be it a story, a new car, or just on an activity to do. I’m even doing it right now. We can learn from this that not everyone has malicious goals here. Sometimes its people trying to help us. But the same instruments that friends and family might use to convenience you on something is also used for deception and manipulation.
This is especially destructive by how effective it works. An example most are probably familiar is the murder hornets arriving in America. How often did you hear them mentioned at the start of the year? And yet their arrival wasn’t particularly special; in fact in 2018 the researcher Jon Sweenly found over 290 different kinds of invasive beetles that had never been seen on the Canadian island. This isn’t particularly rare either, invasive species come to America every year, so what made Murder Hornets special? They sold a better story then beetles do. We can find why the story died off after it did as well, the story got old and there weren’t any casualties in America from the hornets.
Now this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Reporters need something to report on and it needs to get people interested enough to watch, that’s just good business on their end. But what’s good business for them isn’t always for us. After all, a car salesmen wants us to buy the most expensive car and continue to buy from them. The trick here is mild amounts of skepticism -if you just believe them at face value you’re going to get taken advantage of.
Once again, the solution is critical thinking and mild amounts of skepticism. This doesn’t mean you need to go around calling everyone liars either, it just means you’re not gullible, and there is a difference. If your friend says that the chocolate tastes better then the strawberry then chances are, they think it tastes better, they don’t have any motive or reason to lie, and even if they did, it wouldn’t matter all that much.
Compare that to someone selling the ice cream. Strawberry might cost you more and produce more revenue for them. As such they don’t have your interest in mind and they have a motive to lie. A likely conclusion is that they’re going to lie. Now this isn’t always the case, most people are generally honest, but the key to catching dishonesty is to look at people’s motives. Why are they saying that and are they respectable.
This shouldn’t make you sadder either, because often times you’ll find that peoples’ motives are good, your friend for instance is trying to make you have a better experience. Your mother tells you not to talk to strangers to keep you safe and sometimes the sales person really does thing that strawberry ice cream tastes better.
So how then do we avoid getting deceived? Well, there are a lot of ways to go about this; in the example with cheesecake the answer is to look at the information. While it’s true that crime rates were lower in 2014 and cheesecake sales were higher, the very next year it grew by 20 thousand dollars in revenue. Yet you can also see that crime actually rose that year. You could also see that cheesecake had been growing for decades and crime had been dropping, but for different amounts of time. In reality it was an example of correlation, and not causation. The tip here was to just to learn more on the subject and logic does the rest.
This is the value of critical thinking, it shouldn’t lead you to be miserable, but help you avoid mistakes and deception. This is the point of critical thinking, to help you build a better foundation in life, because if your only foundations are build on half truths and sometimes no truths at all then when push comes to shove you’ll fall over and never know why to begin with.
But with critical thinking, even if you do fall, you can at least figure out why, you can learn from mistakes and begin to avoid them. On top of this, critical thinking can help you avoid lies from the hardest place to spot them, yourself. Because every person on earth has biases, the best we can do its to try and spot them along the way. But who knows, maybe critical thinking isn’t the best route, after all, I began my speech with something intended to mislead you. Can I really be trusted to be accurate now? The thing is, you can’t know unless you sit back and genuinely think about it.