Noise Pollution

The last post on New Rules, Michael Ayers provided a pathway from data to understanding and wisdom.  See

There is a lot of noise out there. It may not qualify for data. In fact, too much noise masks real data that could be useful. How do you know if it is data or just noise? First, let’s review a few facts about sound.

  1. Sound travels slower than light.  Visuals are generally quicker to convey ideas than listening or text.  Use graphics for maximum input.  Graphic organizers have been cited by many studies to help us remember more efficiently.


  1. We remember stories better than lectures or reading text.  Stories with emotion increase our retention.  Indigenous cultures transmitted their lessons and more through story and metaphor. I don’t think any indigenous culture had a three-ring binder full of policies, yet their culture continues to survive after thousands of years. We ALL originally came from “indigenous” cultures. . .


  1. Sound formula:  Lambda (λ wavelength) = Velocity x Frequency.  Lambda is a constant.  If velocity of the sound increases, the frequency must decrease. If both increase the constant, or listening, gets distorted.  Too much velocity means sound is coming too fast, overloading the amount of sound in a shorter time.  As waves travel from one medium to another, the frequency stays constant. The velocity changes in the new medium so the wavelength must alter because the frequency stays the same. This is why water waves bend to be parallel to the shore as they move into more shallow water. Lenses work because light travels more slowly in glass so light waves refract as they move between different media.


  1. Amplitude is the level of sound.  If you have gone to a rock concert, you know there is a level that is too loud (amplitude) to make it comfortable to listen. Actually, softer can get attention better than trying to out yell others.


Some suggestions on how to challenge statements.  I don’t want to buy snow in Alaska in the wintertime.


  1. Triangulate. See if you can check more than one source.  You are trying to pick unpopped kernels out of popcorn.  Don’t consume those unpopped kernels unless you have very strong teeth, or you have good dental insurance.  With the overload of talking, through media sources, it is hard to pay attention and what to pay attention to.  Check it out first before you believe it.


  1. Probe for specificity.  When you hear better, best, etc. ask, ‘compared to what?’  An activity to use with students is to watch commercials and listen for unspecified nouns, verbs, and lost comparators. “Things go better with coke.”  Which things? Go, how? Down my esophagus, riding in a car? Coke?  Which coke? Regular, diet, cherry, decaffeinated? Diet decaffeinated vanilla?


So, ask ‘better than what?’ ‘Best compared to . . .?’


  1. Ask for sources.  Research says…  What research? Who did the research?  What was the ‘n?’  There have been studies which had ten people and the treatment results lasted twenty minutes.  They write a book and people believe it is transferable to a larger context.


  1. Credibility.  Who is telling this information?  Is this a history major giving medical advice?  What is their experience?  As Mark Twain said, ”Anyone who has had a bull by the tail knows five or six things more than someone who hasn’t.”  I will go with the person who has the scars of experience.  As Teddy Roosevelt referred to those in the arena.


  1. Read.  Read from multiple sources.  This helps to synthesize multiple perspectives giving a more complete picture.


  1. Step back and think for a second; if it sounds too fantabulous to be real – really dig into the credibility of the information and the source.


Those who are credible with authentic information should not mind questions. Ralph Nader was asked by a reporter, ‘why did you become such a consumer advocate.’  Nader responded that when he came home from school his father asked him, ‘were you taught to believe or were you taught to think today?’


Let’s go with thinking and not just assume what you hear from others is true.  Ask questions.  Technology has provided great access to lots of information.  Technology has provided great access to lots of misinformation.  We would advocate for teaching and modeling how to check whether or not information is true.  The responsibility is going to be with the consumer.


Separate the noise from real data so we get the wisdom we seek. Pick the kernels out of popcorn.



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