Monthly Archive: December 2011

Culture Heroes: NASA’s Apollo Teams: R&D-I-Y and one of the greatest stories ever told

Between April 11 – 17, 1970, the Apollo 13 saga gripped much of the world as three NASA spacemen in a badly-damaged ship wound their way around the moon and home to Earth with all bets of their survival fundamentally off.

Or at least that’s how it seemed to the world at large.

But there are few points during that six-day saga at which the men who controlled the mission from Houston, Texas had any real doubt that they would succeed in bringing their men safely home. Not because they had any guarantees – they certainly did not. Nor had they practiced for almost any of the eventualities that came at them hard and fast during that sleepless week.

They were sure they’d pull it off because inherently, they were the perfect breed of independent-thinking team players. They were, to coin a term I heard recently in a totally unrelated TED talk by Britta Riley, R&D-I-Yers: Research & Develop-It-Yourselfers.

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The danger of lazy thinking and why we need to stop it

It’s not that people don’t think. It’s just that we often don’t put anything like enough effort into developing the quality of our thoughts. And we, as a group, are beginning to screw things up.

I read a diatribe recently about the dangers of a loss of objective reality and I wish I could remember where I read it so I could credit it for flagging the issue for me.

Put simply, in an objective world, we listen to both sides of a story. If there are more than two, we listen to all sides of a story. We do this because we care about the truth, which is the only thing in the world that can actually help us solve problems.

But over time, we’ve got lazier at protecting the quality of our thoughts.

For example, a recent report entitled Misinformation and the 2010 Election, conducted by the University of Maryland says that viewers of Fox News are less likely to know the facts on current affairs issues than non-viewers. Issues included whether most scientists agree that climate change is occurring (in fact, they do), whether or not Americans’ income taxes have gone up (in fact, they have not), and whether or not President Obama was born in the United States, a requirement for him to be legitimately the leader of the country (in fact, he was, and has proved it).

The reason these facts, backed by provable data, are questioned at all is because huge swathes of the media and other influencers have pushed objectivity out of the window in favour of furthering the owner’s preferred agenda.

It is more important than ever therefore, that we filter the information we ingest for quality, by source, by credibility and by our own damn common sense. This, fundamentally, is the goal of objective reality.

To put it as simply as I can: there are facts that are supported by data and there are opinions which are not. They are not equal and should not be given equal weight in our minds if we wish to have any chance at getting a clear picture of what needs to be done to solve a problem.

And with as many problems on our collective plates as we have currently, it isn’t helpful to allow our minds to be filled with bullshit because we’re failing to judge the quality of the information we feed them.