information diet

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Over at Barry Ritholtz's Big Picture, Kent Thune asked the site's readers about information sources:

Why do you read this blog? What other media sources do you consume? If information were food, how healthy is your diet? [...] Do you seek sources of information that only align with your perspective (confirmation bias) or do you seek a variety of opinion?

I rely primarily on the printed word, reading many blogs (let's hear it for RSS feeds!), magazines, and books--with a smattering of TV news programs and an almost complete absence of talk radio. The sources upon which I rely cover much of the religious/social/political/economic spectrum, and I have a special fondness for media criticism--sort of a meta-source, in this context--as a corrective against reliance on sources with an unhelpful bias.

Thune mentioned Nobel laureate Herbert Simon, who noted that "a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention" and coined the term bounded rationality, which:

...suggests that individuals are only partially rational and that their rationality is bound by the information they consume, the complexity and abundance of the information available to them and the finite amount of time they have to make decisions.

That concept gave me one of those on-the-tip-of-my-tongue feelings until I recalled a reference to Samuel Popkin and his theory of "low-information rationality" from my review of Drew Westen's The Political Brain:

Political scientist (and sometimes-consultant) Samuel Popkin has argued that this tendency to play "follow the leader" is a sensible strategy for most voters, who have their own lives to lead and don't have the time or interest to study all the affairs of state. Accepting uncontested elite opinions represents a form of what Popkin calls "low-information rationality." If no one on either side of the aisle is contesting an issue at the top of the information chain, why would most voters, who have far less direct knowledge, contest it at the bottom? (p. 190)

As an analogy, I guess it would be like trusting the wait staff at your information restaurant to recommend a dish that you would like.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on September 7, 2009 11:09 PM.

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