Conspiracy theories and career management

I did not write since some time, and I am usually not the kind of person to share my opinion on current issues such as conspiracy theories in public (although there was this post about resume fraud, which is not too far away from the topic). But the last events gave me some inspiration to write this post about managing your career.

A small context reminder

In December 2019, a new disease appeared in China, that would soon wreck havoc across the world. Hundreds of millions have been infected since the beginning, millions have died (at least officially, the real tally is certainly much higher). Economic sectors survive with difficulty, if they have not collapsed yet. Millions of people have lost their jobs, and either they try to retrain in a different sector, or they are still looking for a job. With the advent of new, more infectious variants, it is a new season of a series we all wish to end soon. And still no end in sight.

We were told the vaccine could be our savior. But alas, this savior has two flaws: it is not affordable to the majority of people in this world. And even for people who can afford it, it is not trusted. I am going to discuss about the latter.

It could be because I have a scientific education, but I always thought that in a discussion,, no matter the topic, you would try to support your arguments with facts. In other words, speak with data. Even better, speak with data that you master. If you do not, well at least try to get someone to do this job for you, someone you really trust.

But with the covid-19 pandemic, things are different.

conspiracy theories about microchipping

The mechanism behind conspiracy theories

You have certainly heard about people who do not believe in the vaccines. They were developed too fast, they are unsafe. They have microchips which will change you into a zombie thanks to the 5G network. Or into Bill Gates’ slaves, maybe, I don’t know.

Before that, they were against the masks: too dangerous, they would choke people to death. And before that, they were sure that covid-19 was not as bad as a flu.

The common denominator of all these conspiracy theories is that they are mostly shared by people who do not have any expertise whatsoever. Despite this, they are genuinely convinced they are right. So much that a discussion with them is pointless. If you argue with numbers coming from trusted sources, they would oppose other numbers from trusted sources as well, except either these numbers do not exist at all, or the trusted source is made up, has no expertise, or is a “friend of a friend of a friend” that someone knows. As such, it is difficult to verify the data. But, as long as many people believe in it, including people you know, it must be true.

This phenomenon is not new, it is called the illusion of truth effect. To make short: the one who talks the loudest, who is listened to the most, is the one who holds the truth, even if it is not the case (from a factual point of view). The more you repeat something, the more people hear that, the more they are convinced that it is true.

Now imagine, with covid-19, a new disease for which experts do not know much, data may come, but it needs some time to assess them and draw conclusion. Meanwhile, other people have drawn their own conclusion, and they do not wait to share them repeatedly. Thus, these conclusions become the truth, and should they be contradicted by the facts later, it is enough to label the opponents as sell-outs, liars, swindlers, idiots or whatever.

The illusion of truth effect applies very well to covid-19. This also applies to any subject where the absence or lack of data makes it possible to draw up an alternative to the facts. Remember hydroxychloroquine? Other examples: politics (here and here), religion, sports (here), marketing (here). finance (here)…

What do conspiracy theories have to do with careers? Hang on a minute, I am coming to that.

The illusion of truth effects and career management

We all wish to have the best career possible. For that, we are willing to listen to people who – we hope – know better than us, what is the best thing to do for us. Some people are even ready to pay for such service. Now imagine that you have millions of people telling you to take a job you do not really wish to take, or study something you do not really like, because they think it is the best thing for you. Would you do it?

Your decision will directly impact your life, not theirs. After all, it is your career. You should be the one calling the shots. As such, you certainly have done your homework, getting as much data as you can about potential jobs or courses. Of course, you may ask other people if you don’t know enough about something. But in that case, assuming you will be the only one to bear the consequences, you will probably be pickier regarding their legitimacy to advise you. Even in the case the facts show you later that you made the wrong decision, you will certainly take corrective action as soon as possible, and remember it for the next time.

We could say the same with other decisions that will only impact yourself. If someone recommends you a plumber because “he is the best”, but does a bad job, you will probably not recommend him, despite being the only one having a negative experience with him. This time, there is no illusion of truth effect., because you have facts: your experience.

Managing your career is not like managing other news!

So why it works so well in one case, but not in the other one?

earth conspiracy theories

Well, there is no doubt that social media have changed our way to communicate and share information, for the better, but also for the worst. They encourage their users to share their thoughts with the world as quickly as possible, even suggesting that a “delete post” button will fix things if you change your mind in the meantime. Their algorithm promote posts that are most likely to generate user engagement, even if their content is absolutely wrong. Not to mention the satisfaction of having millions of followers for these “influencers”, it is then easy to understand that speaking about topics you don’t know anything about can be very rewarding for them, at least on a short term.

Nowadays, anyone can get more than one million followers, without any particular expertise you would have learned at school. And like Spider-Man’s uncle said before being killed (yes, I have great references), with great powers, come great responsibilities. Being able to influence millions of people is certainly a great power, unfortunately, a few people take the responsibilities that come with it. Thus, fake news spread very fast, with the risk of ruining some person’s lives.

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If you were expecting me to give a solution to the problem of conspiracy theories, you will be disappointed. I am not an expert, I don’t have data, and I think there are more than enough people out there to tell you what to do or not.

But on a personal level, I lost two family members to covid-19, the first time after opposing the masks, the second time after opposing the vaccines. None of them were infectious disease specialist, but they thought they knew best. So on the one hand, I am relieved to think that people would be certainly more cautious regarding their career than they are with a pandemic. On another hand, writing this sentence makes you think about the will of some people to pursue their interests above all else, whatever the price – even if that price may be the death of others.

To summarize, you would not want conspiracy theories and fake news to influence your career. So please exercise the same caution with other news, because it is not only in your own interests, it is also in mine and all of us.