Critically Examine Information to Avoid Garbage In, Gospel Out

One of the aims of my WorkplacePsychology.Net blog is to encourage and insist on evidence-based practices. A huge pet peeve of mine is the stating of opinions or thoughts as facts or providing incorrect or false information, such as when someone will matter-of-factly state something as fact when it’s actually just their opinion or sharing something they heard or read or concluded incorrectly. What’s troubling is that this occurs so often today despite the wide availability and ease of access to the Internet to help confirm or challenge these mistakes.

I’ve seen this happen in conversations as well as writings — in social gatherings, the workplace, and even in business magazines and books. To me, the fault lies not only in the individual(s) passing along the mistake but also in the receiver(s) who careless accept it as facts. If information (news, stories, statements, claims, and so on) is not properly vetted (i.e., carefully examined), by both sharers and receivers of that information, it can quickly snowball into useless noise or, worse, damaging rumors or unintentional (or even intentional) misinformation.

For instance, I heard two people talking about a news story (of which I had read about). Person X made an emphatic statement about the type of weapon used to commit a crime and Person Y simply accepted it as truth, without ever verifying that this was actually true or not.

In another case, I was very curious as to how writers and authors arrived at the $300 billion cost for the toll of stress on the U.S. economy. This price tag is often cited in newspapers, blogs, magazine articles, and even textbooks. After some research, I discovered that the $300 billion cost of stress on the U.S. economy is actually based on speculation made in a 1979 book that were then later adjusted to account for inflation.

According to IBM, “Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. This data comes from everywhere: sensors used to gather climate information, posts to social media sites, digital pictures and videos, purchase transaction records, and cell phone GPS signals to name a few.”

Indeed, as our demand for and use of mobile devices grows so too will the unbridled growth of what’s called unstructured data which are “generated by all our digital interactions, from email to online shopping, text messages to tweets, Facebook updates to YouTube videos” (Wall, 2014).

While it would be impossible to critically examine every piece of information, it is wise to use an evidence-based approach in the planning and execution of key business initiatives (e.g., employee selection, training & development, assessments, leadership development, etc.).

Here’s one example for employee selection:

Despite their popularity and frequency of use, free-flowing, unstructured job interviews are the least effective tool when hiring. Situational interviews, patterned behavioral interview, job simulations, and a realistic job preview are four effective, research-supported tools for hiring (Latham, 2009).

There are a lot of noisy distractions (e.g., unsubstantiated claims, statements, posts, tweets, emails, texts, comments, etc.) and it’s up to each one of us to sift through mountains of data (of all types), curating the best/most useful, and ignoring the rest.

In 2015, let us all become better, more proficient, curators of information or, better stated, evidence-based professionals. If you hear or read something, look it up (using reputable online or offline resources, and no Wikipedia is not one of them) and confirm that the information stated has merit. It does not matter if the information came from someone’s mouth, a popular blog, a business website, or a book — you should practice your due diligence and vet that information before absorbing it into your own mind. Carelessly accepting everything you read and/or hear as fact will result in a “Garbage In, Gospel Out” (an updated term to Garbage In, Garbage Out) mindset and way of life.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

Ault, M. R. (2003). Combating the Garbage-In, Gospel-Out Syndrome. Radiation Protection Management: The Journal of Applied Health Physics, 20(6), 26-30. http://www.radpro.com/RPM-206full.pdf

Goldin, R. (2004). Counting the costs of stress. http://stats.org/stories/2004/counting_costs_stress_sep23_04.htm

IBM Study: Digital era transforming CMO’S agenda, revealing gap in readiness. http://www.ibm.com/news/ca/en/2011/10/11/s358732u66669q21.html

IBM. What is big data? http://www-01.ibm.com/software/data/bigdata/what-is-big-data.html

Latham, G. P. (2009). Becoming the Evidence-Based Manager: Making the Science of Management Work for You. Boston, MA: Davies-Black.

Wall, M. (2014, Mar. 3). Big Data: Are you ready for blast-off? http://www.bbc.com/news/business-26383058

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