Climate change Design inference Media Science

Fake news’s power shrinks with context warning?

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As a sort of inoculation? From Natasha Lomas at Tech Crunch:

Research conducted by social psychologists at Cambridge University in the UK, and Yale and George Mason in the US, offers a potential strategy for mitigating the spread of misinformation online — involving the use of pro-active warnings designed to contextualize and pre-expose web users to related but fake information in order to debunk factual distortion in advance.

The researchers found that combining facts about climate change with a small dose of misinformation — in the form of a warning about potential distortion — helped study participants resist the influence of the false information. More. [link now fixed]

Sounds like the usual motivated rubbish, actually. (That is: Give us JOBS trying to control what people hear!)

Actually, once human beings understand the context of information, we pick up the reliability cues pretty well. But information must become part of the culture first, which is a key reason for letting it find its level without interference.

At my local supermarket, for example, newspapers are positioned at the entrance to the checkout area but tabloids are shelved with the countertop gum and candy. Medical journals featuring articles about weight loss are offered in different venues from the saga of the woman who lost 100 lbs in one year on the miracle prune diet…

It gets worse. In a workplace, opinion rages about media articles on downsizing. But then someone reports that, while she was tidying the storage cupboard in the boardroom the other night, she overheard a conversation among bosses about strategies for cutting staff by 25% … who to believe, what to believe…?

Now, there is nothing new about any of this in principle except for Tech Crunch’s naive assumption that the current consensus on a subject is true news and non-consensus findings or predictions are fake news. Were that true, science would have ended in the Old Stone Age. But in today’s tenure game of musical chairs, lots of boffins might want it to end science advances now, making themselves the all-time geniuses at the summit.

See also: Part I: What is fake news? Do we believe it?

Does fake news make a difference in politics?

and

Part III: What can we do about fake news that would not diminish real news? diminish real news? Critics of ‘fake news’ should go to China — only the government has the right to post fake news.

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3 Replies to “Fake news’s power shrinks with context warning?

  1. 1
    Eric Anderson says:

    Looks like the link is broken?

    The results of the study (at least as summarized in the OP) don’t seem particularly surprising.

    If people are given examples and taught how to recognize “misinformation,” then they are more likely to be better prepared to recognize subsequent examples of such “misinformation.” That isn’t particularly interesting or noteworthy.

    The more difficult question is whether what is being taught is true or is misinformation. To answer that question we, unfortunately, have to do some hard work, look at the actual science, analyze closely, become acquainted with the nuances, and gain at least a passing understanding of the field.

    Thus the real key to recognizing misinformation is to become proficient in the field. The Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect is well worth remembering in this context.

    Let me be clear that when I refer to becoming proficient in a field I am not suggesting that everyone who happens to have gone to school for a particular number of days and happens to have written a thesis and received a degree has a good handle on recognizing misinformation. The real ability to avoid misinformation is to understand the issues and how the debate is carried out. Indeed, some whose career or lifestyle or income is dependent upon a particular narrative display very little awareness of the nuances and details, and can become completely oblivious to the obvious flaws in the paradigm they uphold, notwithstanding several impressive titles after their name.

    Short of becoming proficient in a particular field, we can start to gain a broader sense of nonsense as we are exposed to various fields, regular talking points, debating tactics, and the like. We still might be hoodwinked occasionally, but we can become much more savvy and, I should add, generally less dogmatic and shrill. There are very few hot-button topics that cannot benefit from some careful analysis, cool heads, and recognition of caveats, nuances, and exceptions.

    After studying an issue for years and having read a great deal and having been exposed to lots of claims and counterclaims, one can eventually start to develop a general sense as to how the debate is carried out.

    With respect to the more shrill claims of climate change catastrophe, for example, I’ve developed a general maxim that even beginners can use as a guideline to avoid falling prey to misinformation when starting out in the debate. (It is a parallel maxim to one that I developed regarding the evolution debate.) It is this:

    The perception of climate change’s catastrophic consequences is inversely proportional to the specificity of the discussion.

  2. 2
    News says:

    Link now fixed: Here.

  3. 3
    News says:

    Great maxim, Eric Anderson at 1! Would wreck traditional mainstream media though.

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