A lot of people have flagged Benedict Carey’s piece in yesterday’s Times, “In Battle, Hunches Prove to Be Valuable,” and with good reason: it’s a fascinating report on research into the way the brain combines visual data and emotional responses to shape the sort of instant-gut-reaction decisions that soldiers make as they evaluate threats.
The examples the piece draws on are from U.S. soldiers’ experiences in Iraq, where every stray boulder or trashheap by the roadside could be hiding a deadly bomb.
Reading Carey’s story, I thought of parallels in the distinctly less lethal — but still occasionally perilous — informational environment of the Web. What are the little signals that tell us, “You can trust this page”? And what are the red flags that tell us, “Watch out, something’s off here”?
These are important. Of course, they can help us protect ourselves from outright scammers (phishers who build lookalike bank websites to try to steal your passwords, and so on). But they can also help us sift and sort through the news and information that flows through our browsers, focusing on the good and discarding the bad.
Some of these signals are glaringly obvious (no “About” page? come on!). Others are subtler (are the writer’s arguments logical? Are statements of fact documented by links?).
What are some of the tools you use? I’ll be teaching a workshop this coming weekend as part of the Stanford Professional Publishing Course, and would love to hear your suggestions.