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From Technology Review: How science gets morphed into propaganda

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Not always how we think. Forewarned is forearmed. From Emerging Technology at MIT Review:

How easy is it for malicious actors to distort the public perception of science?

Today we get an answer thanks to the work of James Owen Weatherall, Cailin O’Connor at the University of California, Irvine, and Justin Bruner at the Australian National University in Canberra, who have created a computer model of the way scientific consensus forms and how this influences the opinion of policy makers. The team studied how easily these views can be distorted and determined that today it is straightforward to distort the perception of science with techniques that are even more subtle than those used by the tobacco industry.

Indeed, the propagandists don’t even need to use their own in-house scientists to back specific ideas. When there is natural variation in the results of unbiased scientific experiments, the propagandists can have a significant influence by cherry-picking the ones that back their own agenda. And it can be done at very low risk because all the results they choose are “real” science.

That finding has important implications. It means that anybody who wants to manipulate public opinion and influence policy makers can achieve extraordinary success with relatively subtle tricks.

Indeed, it’s not just nefarious actors who can end up influencing policy makers in ways that do not match the scientific consensus. More.

The article offers a number of points worth considering. But overall, it suffers from the assumption that the current “consensus” of science ought to shape policy. Anyone familiar with how science is made will be reminded of how sausages are made.

One really needs to think carefully, in both cases, whether the outcome should be bought and ingested.

See also: Study: More education leads to more doubt of science “consensus”

Hat tip: Heather Zeiger

One Reply to “From Technology Review: How science gets morphed into propaganda

  1. 1
    LocalMinimum says:

    per Wikipedia:

    1892 Jan talk, June pub Robert Giffen (1837–1910, Walter Bagehot’s assistant editor at The Economist 1868ff; 1882-4 President of the Statistical Society): “An old jest runs to the effect that there are three degrees of comparison among liars. There are liars, there are outrageous liars, and there are scientific experts. This has lately been adapted to throw dirt upon statistics. There are three degrees of comparison, it is said, in lying. There are lies, there are outrageous lies, and there are statistics.”

    So, the “scientific experts” may just precede “statistics” in the saying.

    Nothing new under the sun.

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