Two good reads I strongly recommend

The first is a book called “The Benefit and the Burden” by Bruce Bartlett, and is essentially about the history of U.S. Tax Policy and the steps needed to take to fix it. Now I understand hearing the topic will likely put many to sleep so the though of reading about it is probably ludicrous but it is surprisingly interesting and eye opening. Also this is not a conspiracy theorist, apocalyptic, fear-mongering book by some run of the mill author who has no real authority to speak on the matter (as I commonly see people referencing in their opinions). Bruce Bartlett has many years of experience in D.C. on the staffs of Ron Paul, Jack Kemp, and Roger Jepsen. He was also staff director of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, deputy assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department, and, for what some might consider to be most notable, senior policy analyst under President Reagan. So what I’m saying is the man knows his stuff. I said before that prior to a consumption tax I favored a progressive tax policy. I am not saying that I was ever wrong in that, but I am only 15% of the way through this thing and already think that myself and whoever else I ever talked to or debated the topic with were complete and total idiots. There was no way that I or any of them could have formed coherent or logical ideas with the apparent and complete lack of knowledge we had. So if you are really interested in the future and current state of our tax policies, or would just like to have an idea of what you’re actually talking about. I strongly recommend it. Its $13 for the e-book.

Secondly, I found a very interesting research study on line the other day conducted by a Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick and a Steven B. Kleinman from Ohio State University. The study is titled “Preelection Selective Exposure: Confirmation Bias versus Information Utility”. Now before discussing the study I must first explain the two terms “Confirmation Bias” and “Information Utility”. For those not familiar with psychology, Confirmation Bias is basically seeking out information that confirms what one already believes to be true, and is part of concept of Cognitive Dissonance. I think the report does a much better job of explaining this so I am just going to Copy and Paste a section that I believe gives a good explanation;

“The theory of cognitive dissonance is predicated on the idea that people strive for cognitive consistency or a drive to ‘produce consonant relations among cognitions’ (Festinger, 1957, p. 9). Conversely, cognitive dissonance is a state of mental unbalance or unrest resulting from inconsistent relationships among cognitions. Festinger hypothesized that individuals would not only attempt to reduce dissonance but also actively avoid situations and information where dissonance is expected to occur. On the flip side, individuals are thought to prefer information in line with preexisting attitudes.” (Westerwick, Kleinman, 2011)

Now in addition to observing the effects of CB, the study also incorporates the concept of “information utility” which is essentially the overall value of information to a person. This value is based on 4 factors; severity of challenges or rewards from an event, likelihood of the even taking place, time proximity (how close the event is to occurring), and perceived ability to influence the event. The theory on information utility is that if the value of information is high enough, people will seek it out regardless of whether or not it conforms to their already established ideas.

Now Confirmation Bias is present in just about every aspect of a person’s life that involves forming ideas or opinions and this study is concerned specifically with the days leading up to a presidential election, election of 2008. Now long story VERY SHORT, the group wanted to record and measure the confirmation bias of the subjects in how they sought information online (how many articles they read favor their ideas vs that don’t, how much time they spend on articles that favor their ideas vs don’t) and if high information utility would decrease confirmation bias. Also, and the part I was most interested in, they wanted to compare the levels of confirmation bias among those who primarily (essentially everyday) got their news and research online to the levels of those that did not (fewer than twice a week I believe). In regards to this last part, some would predict that confirmation bias would be greater with those that prefer online resources because it allows viewers greater customization and ability to pull specifically information that is inline with their beliefs and would therefore have higher confirmation bias. Others would predict this access to a greater variety would reduce the bias.

A brief overview of the results is yes we are still human and the bias was very evident but it is possible for a High Information Utility to override the tendency for confirmation bias. And in regards to the online news seekers………there was virtually no confirmation bias among the participants who used the internet as their primary source of information. They viewed almost the same amount of articles of those in favor of their beliefs as they did those in opposition of them and spent about the same amount of time read each as well. I say about instead of exact but in reality the frequent online source users only spent 5% more time on articles that favored their stance, hardly significant when you consider non-frequent online source users spent 46% more time on articles that favored their stance.

So moral of this story is to turn off the television (REGARDLESS OF NEWS CHANNEL PREFERENCE), take some initiative and do your own research to develop your own ideas instead of sitting in front of the T.V. and having them fed to you as you do nothing.

On a positive note, check the Herman Cain Bad Lip Reading video for some humor.


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