Earlier this week, Molli blogged on what I like to call spinning by omission (SBO), or leaving out details to support an argument.  It’s commonplace in all types of debate but rampant among activists and politicians.  The great abortion debate is a perfect example of SBO.

Although it’s safe to assume most Americans fall somewhere in the middle of the abortion debate, and we know hardliners on both sides are in the minority, the voices of the extremists cut through our televisions and newspapers.  Pro-choicers (not even their labels are safe from spinning, but let’s stick to the common names) won’t give an inch and advocate third-term abortions.  Pro-lifers won’t accept abortion on any terms, including rape and incest.  These stereotypes permeate the debate and a screaming match ensues – only interrupted when a new law or Supreme Court ruling adds to the battle ground.

Until now, I’ve been interested in the political implications of this type of public discourse, and I’ve blogged before about the effect it has on voting (discouraging).  But the ongoing Newsweek Global IQ quiz forced me to take a new look at SBO.

I’m not going to tell you my score (suffice to say it was average).  Rather, I’m more interested in the effect SBO had on my answers throughout the quiz.  Early on, it became clear that my politics and the emphasis on certain issues in the news skewed my knowledge of world events.  I tended to over- or under-estimate the scope of an issue, such as the amount of U.S. debt held by China or the amount of carbon emissions produced by natural causes, based on whether the issue was hot in the media.  Even issues I care about and follow in the news were victims of SBO.

Perhaps you’re thinking, yeah sure, you’re just embarrassed you didn’t do better.  Well, that’s true.  But we stay on top of world events through the news and the statements of public figures.  And the tendency of those figures to skew events by SBO has a lasting effect on our beliefs. — Brigitte Lyons