Okay, so that’s a little misleading. But, as Clive Thompson writes in the September issue of Wired magazine, that’s precisely the point. “Wander into the pop science section of any bookstore and you’ll be told—over and over again—a disturbing fact: Everything you know is wrong. About everything. Seriously, everything!” From Talent is Overrated to The Social Animal, Thompson has noticed that telling people they’re wrong about some seemingly familiar truth is increasingly popular: “it’ll take a renegade outsider—like, say, a ‘rogue economist’—to pierce these veils of ignorance,” “revealing a ‘secret’ long ‘hidden’ from you.”
Thompson offers three ideas for why it is we might be drawn to the “Everything You Know Is Wrong!” trope (since it’s fairly obvious why writers and media outlets—The Society Pages’ authors are no exception—adopt it). First, and most fundamentally, he says that the world is confusing and we may be drawn to those who promise to illuminate it. Fair enough. Second, perhaps “it’s a side effect of what David Shenk… called ‘data smog.’ When you live with an ever-expanding surplus of research… it may paradoxically make you increasingly unmoored from what you actually believe—so you’ll swallow anything.”
Or, third, “Perhaps our willingness to have our basic beliefs overturned is a sign of intellectual health. This mindset is, after all, key to the scientific method.” Maybe we truly, deeply learned the lesson of all those science classes, becoming true lovers of skepticism willing to embrace uncertainty, theory, testing, and a “delight in a genuinely counterintuitive argument.”
Thompson ends on a cautionary note:
Now, I’m not suggesting that all of these “secret side” articles hold water… some are awfully lazy… But the readers—they’re out there searching and questing, and that’s good.
Or to put it another way, Everything You Know About Everything You Know Being Wrong Is Wrong.
Unless, of course, I’m wrong.