On the Misinformed

When lies make us stupid.

Mark Twain Quote

This morning, a typical quote + image meme appeared in my Twitter stream, shared by @Phillipdpl1974. The illustrious person in the photograph who was being quoted was none other than my favorite author of all time, Mark Twain.

The quote hit hard, primarily because of the events of the night before, which I’ll get to in a moment. It said:

It’s easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled.

Later in the day, while surfing Facebook, my friend Stewart shared a link to an article on Five Thirty Eight titled “Trump Supporters Appear To Be Misinformed, Not Uninformed.” It also hit hard because of the previous night’s events.

What Happened Last Night

It started innocently enough. I’d mentioned to my two companions — we’ll call them Sally and Joe — that I’d talked to guy at the concealed weapons permit booth at Quartzite. They were both familiar with him and both seemed to agree that the guy was a jerk. I told them that in the course of our discussion, he’d insinuated that California was not part of the United States. He apparently thought that was funny. But with all the NRA signage around his booth and his obvious close-minded, anti-liberal attitude, I didn’t think it was funny at all and let him know before turning my back on him and walking away. (In all honesty, the NRA signage was enough to prevent me from spending any money at all at his booth.)

My discussion last night with my friends naturally segued to the topic of the President’s recent executive orders related to gun controls, specifically those new rules for background checks. Joe immediately got testy. He said he didn’t understand why the president was making laws that already existed. When Sally and I asked him what he meant, he told us that background checks were already required for all gun purchases.

Sally reminded him that he’d bought a gun in Arizona at a gunshow and no background check had been required. I told them my wasband had done the same thing.

“When was that?” Joe demanded? “Twenty years ago?”

We admitted that it had been quite a while ago but that we didn’t think the laws had changed. Joe insisted that background checks were required in all states for all gun purchases. The discussion elevated to shouting, which really surprised me. Already yelled at by Joe for interrupting him “all the time,” I shut up.

While Sally and Joe continued arguing, I pulled out my phone and Googled, “In which states can I buy a gun without a background check?” Then, when there was a gap in the shouting match, I began to read:

Eight states require background checks at the point of sale for all —

Joe cut me off. “Where does it say that?”

“Wikipedia,” I replied.

“Oh, Wikipedia,” Joe responded in a tone of voice that made it clear he thought I was an idiot for relying on anything I read there.

I clicked another link. This one displayed the Gun Show background Checks State Laws page on Governing.com. I mistakenly identified it as “a government website,” but I still believe the information there is accurate. I read:

Known as the “gun show loophole,” most states do not require background checks for firearms purchased at guns shows from private individuals — federal law only requires licensed dealers to conduct checks.

I held up the phone to show him a map with states colored depending on whether they required background checks for all gun purchases, including gun shows and private sales.

“It’s on the Internet,” Joe said sarcastically. “It must be true.” He then started a rant about how you couldn’t believe anything you read in the media.

I told him that some sources were definitely better than others.

He asked me where I got my information from.

“NPR, PBS, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post. These are all pretty reliable as far as facts go.” (If asked again today, I’d add the Economist, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, BBC World News, and the Guardian.) I know better than to trust far right or far left media sources like FoxNews or Mother Jones.

He then went off on another tangent related to whether it was legal for felons to buy guns. Sally and I said no.

“So in these states where there’s no background check required, it’s legal for felons to buy guns?”

“No,” we both repeated.

“But can they buy guns?”

“Yes,” I said. “Because they can lie because there’s no background check. That’s the point. The background check would help prevent people who shouldn’t buy guns from buying guns. That’s why Obama made the executive order.”

Joe responded by telling us that he didn’t trust the president. That shocked the hell out of Sally and me. While Sally continued arguing with Joe, I took a huge step back, out of the conversation. I knew then that Joe was a lost cause.

Life’s just too short to argue wait people who can’t form their own opinions based on facts.

Oh, and I should mention that what I reported above is only part of a much longer, very angry conversation about laws, guns, truth, the media, and the president. Honestly, it went on a lot longer than it should have.

The Misinformed

This morning, after reading the Five Thirty Eight piece Stew shared, I realized that my friend Joe had become one of the misinformed.

We all get crap shared by our Facebook friends — crap pushing one opinion or another, often through the use of misleading or inaccurate data, charts, quotes, or statements. A lot of it is hateful or even racist. I’ve seen some pretty bad stuff and, in most cases, I simply stop following or even “unfriend” the person who shared it. I’ve blocked more than a handful of friends of friends who share inappropriate comments on my public posts. I have zero tolerance for hate.

Some of us get angry when we get crap we don’t agree with but cling to the crap we do agree with. Others disregard the obviously misleading crap — “Obama is a Muslim” or “Syrian refugees are part of a terrorist sleeper cell” — and spend time researching the crap that might just be true. Nine times out of ten, that “might be true” crap turns out to be just as wrong as the rest of it. But that one time it isn’t — well, then we can learn from it.

My friend Joe was from the first camp. He got a lot of crap from people who thought like he did — Sally confirmed this suspicion later that night — and he believed it. Yet ironically, he claimed that you couldn’t believe anything on the Internet.

How could you argue with someone like that?

The Five Thirty Eight piece discusses the differences between uniformed and misinformed people:

Uninformed citizens don’t have any information at all, while those who are misinformed have information that conflicts with the best evidence and expert opinion…. In the U.S., the most misinformed citizens tend to be the most confident in their views and are also the strongest partisans. These folks fill the gaps in their knowledge base by using their existing belief systems. Once these inferences are stored into memory, they become “indistinguishable from hard data”…

… When misinformed citizens are told that their facts are wrong, they often cling to their opinions even more strongly with what is known as defensive processing, or the “backfire effect.”

The article goes on to discuss various studies and actual examples of the use of misinformation as a way to more firmly connect with supporters. It’s not a very long piece, but it’s a fascinating look at psychology. I highly recommend it.

How Lies Make Us Do Stupid Things

If we believe things that aren’t true, we form opinions based on that misinformation. Those opinions can guide actions. If we follow a course of action based on bad information, we run the risk of following a bad course of action.

There’s a pretty good example of this from my own life. My wasband somehow got the idea that he had a legal claim to everything I owned, despite the fact that I’d acquired most of it before marriage and through my own efforts. He firmly believed that he was entitled to half of everything and, for the life of me, I can’t understand why his lawyers didn’t set him straight. Or maybe they tried and he refused to believe them. His misinformed belief caused him to launch a lengthy and expensive divorce battle that he eventually lost. Still believing he was right, he couldn’t accept that loss and appealed the judge’s decision, thus launching another lengthy and expensive court battle that he also lost. Clearly, his belief in incorrect information cost him a lot of money that would have been better spent rebuilding his life with the woman who likely misinformed him and goaded him to going after my money in the first place. (Talk about irony.)

In 1998, Andrew Wakefield, who was then a medical doctor in the U.K., published a fraudulent research paper that linked the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism. It was later discovered that the patients in his study were recruited by lawyers suing MMR vaccine makers and that those lawyers had paid both Wakefield and the hospital he worked for large sums of money. Further, Wakefield had applied for a patent on a measles vaccine to be used instead of the MMR vaccine; discrediting that vaccine would certainly benefit him financially. All of these situations were a huge conflict of interest for his research paper and probably explain his motivations for committing the fraud. The report was formally withdrawn in 2010 but the damage of his misinformation was already done: a huge group of people believed — and continue to believe — the now debunked results of his research. Although there is no link between the MMR vaccine — or any other vaccine — and autism, an alarming percentage of parents around the world refuse to vaccinate their children. The result: thousands of deaths and illnesses that could have been prevented by vaccines.

Nowadays, we’re seeing opinions based on misinformation dividing Americans and filling them with hate. These people are voters and many support candidates such as Donald Trump who, in the words of the Five Thirty Eight piece’s author, Anne Pluta, “has a consistently loose relationship with the truth.” This is a man who has made many public derogatory remarks about women, wants to discriminate against people based on their religion, and claims he’ll get a foreign government to pay for the cost of a border wall that is impossible to build. He’s a narcissist with a crass personality who makes the American people look like idiots in the eyes of the world every time he opens his mouth. Very little this man says is true, but the misinformed believe him and eat up every word he utters. I think it’s safe to say that the action they might take — actually voting for this man to be our president — is a foolish one.

My friend Joe’s concerns about trusting the media aren’t outrageous. There are many, many media sources that I can’t trust to present facts that are not tainted by opinion. I already mentioned two of them — FoxNews on the far right and Mother Jones on the far left. These two media outlets present opinions supported by cherry-picked “facts” and quotes often taken out of context. But they’re only two of the thousands of sources people — including voters trying to stay informed — trust every day.

What’s the solution? If you can’t find a truly objective source of factual information, there isn’t one.

I’ve got to think that it’s better to be uninformed than misinformed.

One Wrong Way to Look for a Pilot Job

Be prepared — and then don’t act outraged when you get an unexpected response.

TelephoneYesterday afternoon, I got a call from a number I didn’t know and answered as I usually do: “Flying M, Maria speaking.”

The caller seemed almost surprised that someone had answered the phone. Maybe I’d answered more quickly than he expected. He stumbled over his words a bit and I recall thinking that he might be someone looking for information about a charter flight. Lots of people who call who have no idea how to ask for what they want get off to a rough start.

But no, eventually he asked for “the boss.” Yes. In those words.

“That’s me.” I replied. Now my brain was wondering what he was selling. Anyone who asks for the owner or the person in charge of parts/maintenance/accounts payable/fill-in-the-blank is trying to sell me some product or service I don’t want. My phone is a cell phone and the number is on the FCC’s Do Not Call list, but that apparently doesn’t stop telemarketers from bothering me multiple times a week.

But no, after some more stumbling over words, I learned that he was a pilot looking for a job.

And that’s when I got annoyed. Here’s a guy who can barely communicate what he wants and obviously did no preparation for his call asking me for a pilot job?

I replied that there were no job openings at my company and that even if I had a job to offer, I wouldn’t offer it to him since he obviously couldn’t be bothered to find out who he was calling before he made a call to ask for a job. I told him he needed to work on his technique.

And then I hung up.

After the initial “I can’t believe how inept job seekers are these days” thought, I got back to what I was doing. I had pilot friends coming for dinner and was prepping for their arrival.

This morning, I got an angry email from the person who’d called. Apparently, he was in the U.S. from his home country (which I don’t think I need to share here), had trained in the U.S., and was outraged that I’d been so rude to him. He said:

I was going to let you know that my approach to you asking for a job was not good at all, I just wasn’t prepared before I called and of all the places I call the owner is never taking the phone.

Interesting that he admitted he wasn’t prepared. And odd that I hadn’t noticed his accent, which really comes through in the wording of his written communication.

He went on to say:

My point with this message is that the way you talked to me was just really disrespectfull [sic], rude and unmotivating for a new pilot.

Apparently, he believed that I should drop everything and give him the polite attention he thought he deserved as he interrupted my day to stumble through his job request. A request made without any advance preparation.

Yes, if he’d bothered to do any research at all on my company before calling to ask for a job, he would have learned that the company is a single pilot Part 135 operator with only one helicopter and one pilot. That should have told him how unlikely it was that I’d be hiring. But at the very least, he would have learned my name and could have used that instead of asking for “the boss.”

Or if he’d read the Help Wanted page on my company’s website, which is linked to the Contact page where he may have gotten my phone number and definitely accessed the contact form he used to email me, he would have seen that I was not hiring.

Yes, I was rude. I’ll admit it. (It’s already been established here and elsewhere that I can be a real bitch sometimes.) But when someone acts like an idiot, how should I respond? By gently coddling him so he makes the same mistake again with the next person he bothers?

Don’t you think this guy will think twice before he makes his next call? That maybe — just maybe — he’ll do a little homework first and learn more about the company he’s calling and whether they’re hiring? Or possibly find out who he should be speaking to to ask for a job?

And am I wrong, but do cold calls ever work when looking for a job? Any job?

The other day, I blogged about the importance of networking for career advancement. Networking can help job seekers make valuable contacts they can use when looking for work. It makes time-wasting cold calls unnecessary.

Am I sorry I was so rude to this guy? Maybe a little. He was probably slightly handicapped by a language issue.

But to me, he wasn’t different from any telemarketer who disrupts my day by trying to sell me something I don’t need or want.

And if he thinks I was rude to him, he should hear me when I’m annoyed at one of them.

Washington Healthplanfinder FAIL

When automatic payments go seriously wrong.

I usually get email while traveling and generally keep up with anything important. Although I wasn’t surprised to get an email from Washington Healthplanfinder, my health insurance agent here in Washington State, to say that my monthly payment had been automatically withdrawn from my account, I was surprised at the amount:

Withdrawal Confirmation

Note the amount: $1,116.15. My monthly premium is $375.14.

I immediately called Washington Healthcarefinder. After pressing numbers to navigate through four different menus — just to ask a billing question — and waiting five minutes on hold, a typical script-reading customer service representative answered. I told her about the problem. After asking for various information to assure I was who I said I was, she read a script that told me that emails had gone out in error. She asked if my bank had processed the withdrawal.

I admitted I hadn’t checked, and whipped out my iPad to check with my bank’s app while she was still on the phone. The transaction had not been processed.

She read another script that assured me that it wouldn’t be processed. That it was just the email that was an error. I suggested that if this was a widespread problem that an email should go out to notify subscribers of the error. She didn’t have a script for that so she didn’t have anything to say. I hung up.

Two days later, on Wednesday, I got an email from my bank confirming a withdrawal from Washington Healthcare Finder:

Withdrawal Confirmation

Note the amount: $1,116.15.

I just about went ballistic. I called the bank to have the charge reversed and was told that I’d have to fill out a series of forms to get the process started.

Washington Healthcare Finder’s offices were still closed that early, but later in the day, I managed to get yet another idiotic, script-reading customer service representative on the phone. I was not kind, especially when her script informed me that the process could take several days while their accounting department researched the problem. There was lots of time wasted on hold, which further pissed me off. When she got back on the phone, I told her that their error had cost me more than an hour of my time with two calls to them and one to my bank. I asked if I would be getting compensated for my time. She said they wouldn’t compensate me for my time, but they’d “compensate me for the overcharge.”

“That’s not compensation,” I roared over the phone. “That’s a refund for your freaking error!”

Because she obviously didn’t understand the difference, she had nothing to say. I hung up.

But not before I demanded that she turn off automatic payments for my account.

Later yesterday morning — yes, two days after the initial email about the incorrect amount went out, I got this:

Notice of Error

Is there any way they could have screwed this up more?

I’m fortunate in that I had enough money in my account to cover this unexpected withdrawal. Other people who routinely carry smaller checking account balances would likely bounce checks to other payees, setting up a nighmarish experience of explaining the problem for every bounced check and getting overdraft fees reversed. Hours of a person’s time could be wasted on this.

I recently set up automatic withdrawals for a number of organizations I do business with. It should make it easy to pay on time without any additional effort. But I’m going to re-think that strategy and make my payments through my bank’s billpay feature. This puts absolute control in my hands and would certainly prevent something like this from happening again.

Communication Failure

Someone’s communication skills need work.

This morning, while going through my email, I found two messages sent three minutes apart by the same person using the contact form on the Flying M Air website.

4:50 PM:

I have 3000 hours helicopters and airplanes. Loving opportunity to meet with someone

4:53 PM:

I have 3000 hours and helicopters and fixed wing I would love an opportunity to speak with someone.

The form offers a place for the person trying to contact me to include his name and phone number, which he did.

My questions:

  • If he wanted to talk to someone and it was within normal business hours, why didn’t he just pick up the damn phone and call? “Speaking” means either using the phone or arranging a face-to-face meeting. It doesn’t mean sending an email message. The contact form page includes both of Flying M Air’s phone numbers, right at the top under the heading “By Phone.” It seems to me that although he said he would “love an opportunity to speak to someone,” he had that opportunity then and still has it right now. In fact, anyone with a phone has that opportunity when the phone number is right there in front of their face. Maybe his phone doesn’t dial out?
  • What did he want to talk about? He’s a pilot — probably not a potential client. What would motivate me to call him? He never said what he wanted to talk about. And no, I’m not interested in calling pilots I don’t know to chat about flying and careers with them. Read this blog. Don’t you think I’m a little busy with other things? Don’t you think I’m entitled to spend my time on things that are important to me and my business?
  • By Email
    This paragraph appears right above the contact form this person used to email me.

    Did he want to talk to someone about a job? If so, he also managed to miss the Help Wanted link right above the email form. If he had clicked that, he would see that Flying M Air is not hiring pilots unless those pilots can come to Washington with a helicopter for a month starting in June to dry cherries. And if he had a helicopter, why wouldn’t he mention that?

So what am I supposed to do? He says he’d like the opportunity to speak to someone. He has it. He didn’t ask me to call. He didn’t tell me what it was about. He didn’t give me any reason to get in touch with him. I’m not even motivated to answer his email message.

And yes, I’m ranting. How could I not rant when I’m faced with such bullshit?

There I Was…

My first contribution to Vertical Magazine.

Vertical is a high quality helicopter magazine out of Canada. Beautifully designed and laid out and stuffed to the gills with quality writing and photography, it’s a real pleasure to read.

I’ve been wanting to write for Vertical for a long time, but never found a way to get my foot in the door. Until a month or two ago. I’d exchanged a few messages with one of the editors there and was passed on to another editor. He was looking for short articles for the magazine’s “There I Was…” column. This column, which is similar to AOPA’s “Never Again” column, showcases first person accounts of pilots in dangerous and/or stupid situations.

Any pilot who claims he’s never done anything stupid or dangerous is either lying or doesn’t fly very much. We all do dumb things once in a while. Those of us who are lucky, live to tell about it — and hopefully learn from it. Others don’t.

Vertical CoverThe cover of the March 2014 issue of Vertical Magazine, their largest issue ever. You can get your copy of the print edition at HeliExpo for free.

By the way, one of the reasons I occasionally read NTSB accident reports for helicopters is to learn from other pilot’s mistakes. Contrary to what the general public believes, at least 90% of aviation accidents are due to pilot error.

Anyway, I thought long and hard about what I could share with Vertical readers and decided to tell about the time I nearly killed myself trying to get over the Cascade Mountains in low visibility. I submitted it and it was accepted. It appeared in the March 2015 issue of Vertical on page 226, with the title “Scud Running in the Cascades.”

If you attend Heli Expo next month, I hope you’ll visit the Vertical booth and pick up a free copy of the magazine. Maybe one of you can send me a copy for my clip file?