If you ask people what should be on the news, they’ll give you great answers. They’ll tell you that they want to hear about what’s going on in our country. They want updates on the economy and politics and foreign policy. They want to hear about the latest developments in healthcare and education. By a margin of two-to-one, they’ll say that international news is more pressing than celebrity gossip!
Did you know that the major news outlets all have systems that can track what news stories actually get read? They can tell how long you read them, how often you shared them, facebooked them, or printed them?
So let me tell you what just a few of the top twenty “news” stories were in the past 6 months:
How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk
30 Signs You’re Almost Thirty
Why Is Netflix Secretly Cropping Movies
22 Things Miley Cyrus Looked Like at the 2013 VMAs
What we said we cared about does not appear to be what we actually cared about. Here’s the quote from the Atlantic: “Ask audiences what they want, and they’ll tell you vegetables. Watch them quietly, and they’ll mostly eat candy.”
Does this surprise you? It probably shouldn’t. It does cause me to think. We say we want the good stuff. We like the idea of hard-hitting biblical lessons at church, but what happens when somebody steps on my toes? We say that we want close, meaningful relationships, but what happens when that requires me to sacrifice?
Let’s tell the truth and admit that we like our “candy” – but let’s do better about the vegetables too!
We all like to gripe about how often the TV weather-guy is wrong. Most of us know that once you get past about a 3-day forecast, the predictions are about as accurate as throwing a dart at the weather map, blindfolded.
I came across an interesting little story. Blogger Randy Olson reviews Nate Silver’s book, The Signal and the Noise. It’s a study of how good (and bad) predictions are, and why the task of prediction is far harder than most of us give it credit.
Here’s what caught my eye: Silver was able to compare the National Weather Service, the Weather Channel, and Local TV predictions—and then compare these three plots to what actually happened. In a perfect world, when the forecast says 50% chance of rain, 50% of the forecast area would get wet. That’s the definition of a perfect forecast.
Silver found that all of the forecasting services were fairly close; the National Weather Service and the Weather Channel were within just a few percentage points of perfect. You’d think that the local TV guys would be right in line with them, seeing as they base most of their forecasts on the NWS data. You’d think that—but you’d be wrong.
The local TV news consistently predicted more rain than happened. All they would have to do is parrot the NWS data, and they would have been within 5-10% of perfect. Despite that, they were frequently way off. When the TV predicted 100% rainfall, do you know how what the actual precipitation percentage was? Somewhere around 68%!
Again, all they had to do to be at 98% was copy and paste the NWS report. Why were they so far off?
Because you and I—through the pressure of ratings—make them.
Silver explained this phenomenon as the “wet bias.” TV reporters will always forecast rain more often than it happens. It’s a simple incentive: if they tell us that it’s going to rain and it doesn’t, we feel lucky and forget about it. If they tell us it isn’t going to rain, and it rains on our parade, we’re furious and we don’t forget! We as viewers tend to only remember the bad news (selection bias). So the incentive for the weatherman is—over-predict rain. It won’t hurt him, and it could help him.
So what’s the lesson about human nature?
We evaluate the performance of others based on their effect on us.
Here’s what we don’t tend to evaluate others based on: accuracy, effort, intention, feelings, or pretty much anything else.
When someone cuts me off in traffic, he’s an inconsiderate maniac who is a menace to society who should be taken off the road. When I do it, I evaluate myself differently. It was an accident. I’m only human!
When they get my order wrong at the McDonald’s drive-thru, I don’t think about me being unclear, the sound equipment making their job difficult, poor job training and equipment, or the possibility that they’re near the end of a double-shift. I just assume they don’t care and want to ruin my lunch.
I’m not always the most charitable observer, am I? Sometimes that causes other people to change their behavior…and not generally for the better.
The weatherman knows that, and so he covers his bases by fudging the numbers, but most people in life don’t have that simple recourse.
This week, when you get angry at somebody, stop and think: am I judging them like I judge the weatherman? Maybe I could cut the people around me a little more slack than I usually do.
What do you think?
In the meantime, I’ll be over at weather.gov…and thinking about what Jesus said. “Judge not…”
There is no one who talks to you more than you do. Your voice is the voice you hear the most. It follows, then, that it is important to monitor what you think about yourself.
When I was studying for Vacation Bible School and the life of Moses, I came across a quote by Dwight Moody. He described Moses’ life this way: He spent his first forty years (in Pharaoh’s house) thinking he was somebody. He spend his next forty years (in the wilderness as a fugitive) learning that he was a nobody. At the end of 80 years, when he stood before the burning bush, he began to learn in his last 40 years just what God can do with a nobody!
“I just want to be a nobody willing to tell everybody that there is a somebody who can save anybody!”
I like it!
Here’s what we need to remember. We are nothing. Paul told the Romans “not to thihnk of himself more highly than he ought to think.” (Romans 12:3). “But by the grace of God, I am what I am!” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
When we think we’re somebody, we might not realize our need for God. When we think we’re nobody, we might not remember that God is the source of all power. But when we come to know that God works with any nobody who is willing to trust him, it changes everything!