Many of us weather-hysteria-haters were chortling last week when a clip of a Weather Channel reporter was revealed that showed him literally acting as though he were being badly buffeted and blown by the wind during Hurricane Florence.
What was so funny about it was his unawareness that some people in shorts and t-shirts were casually and comfortably walking behind him seemingly unaffected by the weather that he was portraying as brutal and dangerous.
Still, some in the media would not admit that the reporter was exaggerating the situation for dramatic purposes. The Weather Channel stated that the grass was wet and that was why the man appeared to be sliding while the people walking behind him were unaffected.
Another media justifier stated that wind can be different in different places as it deflects off buildings and thus the reporter could have been being buffeted while those walking behind him were not. If you look at the clip though, it looks pretty obvious that the reporter is faking it.
The Weather Channel is also now using video-game-like graphics to simulate what things ‚Äúwould look like‚ÄĚ if their predictions come true. They are calling it ‚Äúinteractive mixed reality.‚ÄĚ The trouble is, the graphics look very real and are very frightening, but they are made-up.
Weather predictions can have a tremendous impact on our community. A prediction of bad weather can influence our relationships and affect our businesses and scheduled activities. In our area, many of us have experienced dire forecasts for bad snow events which don‚Äôt materialize leading to unnecessary business closures and school cancellations that affect our children and jobs.
It reminds me of a year or so ago, when we had a snow event in our area and the television reporter was saying, ‚Äúplease, stay inside, it is unsafe to go out‚ÄĚ which led me to wonder why the reporter and camera crew were outside. As he was giving the report a truck easily passed by and tooted its horn to them and then a group of children going sledding walked by laughing and having a great time.
Some people apparently think this type of weather amplification is great. They believe that by showing a realistic looking scenario of how awful things ‚Äúmight be,‚ÄĚ it will encourage people to evacuate or to stay inside to avoid potential problems in bad weather.
Reportedly in New York City in 2017 when a 2-foot blizzard was initially predicted, officials knew this was unlikely but they did not want to downgrade the storm for fear that people wouldn’t take it seriously!
These incidents of exaggeration in the weather media and the rapidly improving technology to create realistic looking images is concerning. The human brain, which is already prone to distortions on its own, finds visual images powerful in creating our belief about reality.
Like the old saying, ‚Äúseeing is believing,‚ÄĚ our reliance upon visual information may become a weakness since so many things can now be represented as real. It should cause all of us to stop and wonder, how much of the information we are exposed to is accurate and to question when are we having the ‚Äúwool pulled over our eyes?‚ÄĚ
As our sources of information become more powerful in their ability to influence us and even to fool us, we need to become better critical thinkers. Asking ourselves three simple questions will help us to analyze the information we get and stop our brain from reflexively accepting what we hear or see.
When we are faced with important information we need to ask ourselves the following three questions and think about the answers: 1) What kind of content is this (is it fact or opinion)? 2) What are the sources of this information and why should they be believed or not-believed (what agendas may be in play)? and 3) What are the established facts and evidence supporting the information?
While we all want everyone to be safe, it won‚Äôt hurt for us to apply a little more critical thinking in our lives to prevent our brains from being fooled. That way we can separate fact from fiction and avoid being manipulated in ways that negatively impact our lives!
Dr. Scott E. Smith is a licensed psychologist with Spectrum Behavioral Health in Arnold, Annapolis and Crofton. To contact him, call 410-757-2077 or write to 1509 Suite F, Ritchie Highway, Arnold, MD 21012.