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Tuesday
Jan172017

Synopses of upcoming talks

I usually don't post these until day before or of, but it occurs to me that that's wasting the opportunity to solicit feedback form the 14 billion subscribers to this site, who might well suggest something that improves my actual presentation.

So... 

For presentation this Saturday at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology meeting in San Antonio:


Cognitive Dualism and Science Comprehension

I will present evidence of cognitive dualism: the use of one set of information-processing strategies to form beliefs (e.g., in divine creation; the nonexistence of climate change) essential to a cultural identity and another to form alternative beliefs (in evolution; or climate change) esential to instrumental ends (medical practice; adaptation).

Then these at the American Association for the Advancment of Science in Boston on Feb. 17 & 18:


America's Two Climate Changes

There are two climate changes in America: the one people “believe” or “disbelieve” in order to express their cultural identities; and the one about which people acquire and use scientific knowledge in order to make decisions of consequence, individual and collective. I will present various forms of empirical evidence—including standardized science literacy tests, lab experiments, and real-world field studies in Southeast Florida—to support the “two climate changes” thesis.


Does "fake news" matter?

The advent of “fake news” disseminated by social media is a relatively novel phenomenon, the impact of which has not been extensively studied. Rather than purporting to give an authoritative account, then, I will describe two competing models that can be used to structure empirical investigation of the effect of “fake news” on public opinion.   The information aggregator account (IA) sees individuals’ beliefs as a register of the sum total of information sources to which they’ve been exposed.  The motivated processor account (MP), in contrast, treats individuals’ predispositions as driving both their search for information and the weight they assign any information they are exposed to. These theories generate different predictions about “fake news”: that it will significantly distort public opinion, in the view of IA;  or that it will be near irrelevant, in the view of MP.  In addition to discussing the provenance of these theories in the science of science communication, I will identify some of the key measurement challenges they pose for researchers and how those challenges can be surmounted.

 


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Reader Comments (5)

"I will present evidence of cognitive dualism: the use of one set of information-processing strategies to form beliefs (e.g., in divine creation; the nonexistence of climate change) essential to a cultural identity and another to form alternative beliefs (in evolution; or climate change) esential to instrumental ends (medical practice; adaptation)."

That seems like a very partisan viewpoint; one likely to put off half your audience! :-)

First, I've not come across any climate sceptic who didn't believe in ice ages. It might serve as a convenient colloquial shorthand for a more complex position, but if so probably ought to be put in scare quotes.

Second, the other viewpoint says that disbelief in divine creation/belief in "catastrophic anthropogenic climate change" are - for most people - equally a matter of Democrat/left-wing/egalitarian-communitarian identity, and that the alternative beliefs are essential to instrumental ends. Burning fossil fuels powers our entire civilisation - hard to get more instrumental than that! - and Pascal's Wager claims the instrumental purpose in belief is to hedge your bets against infinite rewards/punishments. I kinda doubt Mr Joe Average would be able to explain the logical flaws in Pascal's argument (he was a bright guy), so it doesn't seem so terribly unreasonable for Joe to argue his belief is founded on purely instrumental grounds. Anyone who's a confident atheist without having studied the philosophy/theology is probably trusting authority, and the authorities they trust are a reflection of their cultural allegiances.

It might be worth picking a more neutral example, or not taking sides in this one, unless you want to pollute your audience's science communication environment with such culturally triggering memes? Unless of course you know your audience is already all on one particular side, and that such counter-cultural heresy is not going to go down well?

:-)

"There are two climate changes in America: the one people “believe” or “disbelieve” in order to express their cultural identities; and the one about which people acquire and use scientific knowledge in order to make decisions of consequence, individual and collective."

Let me guess... the Kentucky Farmer again?

"The advent of “fake news” disseminated by social media is a relatively novel phenomenon, the impact of which has not been extensively studied."

Social media is relatively novel. Black propaganda on the other hand has been with us for centuries, if not millennia. George Orwell wrote a book about it, if you remember, loosely based on his career at the BBC!

As many people have commented recently, "fake news" is a mainstream media staple, too. People simply don't notice it when it doesn't conflict with their prior beliefs, and when they get all their news from one source they naturally don't see much conflict. (Not that that would necessarily stop them believing - Orwell was quite right about people's tendencies towards "doublethink".) It's only now that other people are getting in on the act that the gatekeepers are complaining about the competition.

The effect of it being highlighted will hopefully be the development of a greater degree of scepticism about authoritative-looking sources, and developing better fact-checking skills in the general public. You can see why the TV pundits wouldn't be happy about that! :-)

"These theories generate different predictions about “fake news”: that it will significantly distort public opinion, in the view of IA; or that it will be near irrelevant, in the view of MP."

Do you mean "distort" or simply "change"?

The generators of it would probably argue that the word ought to be "improve"...

"On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we'd like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public's imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This 'double ethical bind' we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both."

Isn't that an example of what you're talking about?

--

I can't say I'm really expecting you to change your presentation in light of my humorously-intended comments. Maybe just to think a bit.

But if you do, I'd be interested to know what you say.

January 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

These theories generate different predictions about “fake news”: that it will significantly distort public opinion, in the view of IA; or that it will be near irrelevant, in the view of MP.

Do they? I don't think this deduction is valid. I think you're trying to argue that under MP, for any idea X, the people who want to believe in X seek out that information anyway, so it doesn't matter if anyone's publishing or publicizing X. If seeking out information were the slow step, that deduction would probably be valid. I think it's not, though.

I think seeking (and validating) information are the fast step, and content creation is slow. The number of people who are performing the slow step is what gives any idea its base of support. People who produce real news and fake news alike are satisfying social demand for easily accessible, predisposition-confirming news; fake news producers just make it up, and take advantage of peoples' selective checking to slide their news through.

It's for these reasons that under scenario assumptions ranging from extreme IA to extreme MR, fake news should always change public opinion. Under IA, everybody is assumed to pay attention to everything, and so fake news changes public opinion by targeting everyone at once; under MR, where audiences choose their sources, fake news develops a previously underdeveloped audience, and so changes public opinion by disinhibiting self-censorship on the part of the lazy and gullible, who create little worthwhile content of their own, but will share the fake stuff. I don't think you'd be able to distinguish between the scenarios.

January 19, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

As I find often to be the case, IMO, here, looking for either/or explanations for an overall effect leads to missing what's most intereresting, i. e, how various people might react differently ways to (various types of) "fake news" - and what variables/attributes might be associated with those different reactions.

Along those lines:

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=http://www.ipr.northwestern.edu/publications/docs/workingpapers/2015/IPR-WP-15-12.pdf&ved=0ahUKEwiHiZabxNHRAhVBySYKHc3UDQ0QFggfMAA&usg=AFQjCNHSrvlRb7IsL-YxTRYSDda9sTvE6Q&sig2=cOTBt_sTwfXRqYDQ84Bu-Q

Then again, I remember liking this post:

http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2013/8/8/partisan-media-are-not-destroying-america.html

January 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Let me try that first link again:


http://www.ipr.northwestern.edu/publications/papers/2015/ipr-wp-15-12.html

January 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

I think that we need a culturally cognitive means of analyzing how the media methods affect societal perceptions.

A huge cultural change occurred after the invention of the printing press, transforming the relationship between the public and their religion, and overall making information much more accessible generally.

Early television presented a unifying (but not necessarily true) "Keep up with the Jones" mindset. But people didn't really live white bread, Father Knows Best lives even back then, and the nature of the Viet Nam war did not actually change once Walter Cronkite grew more skeptical of government press releases.

History is chock full of examples of times when the media lied to people because powerful interests wanted to influence public opinion. Remember the Lusitania! Have you ever read The Brass Check by Upton Sinclair? Or Norm Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent? Look at how Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh successfully exploited talk radio, a medium that working people could listen to while working. And of course, Marshall McCluhan's The Medium is the Message.

But there is something about our broad based hopeful attitudes in 2008, or things like Arab Spring, or LGBT awareness and rights which flourished with the advent of the Internet which seem to be diminishing now that the Internet is getting more centralized and seems to be getting more effectively manipulated by powerful special interests.

In the case of modern social media, I think that the algorithms used by entities such as Facebook have had a huge social effect. Information searching is not only within the the IA or MP models above but also behind the scenes being wrapped around them by an undetected force. For those for whom Facebook is a primary news source, the construction of a cocoon around them has not been entirely of their own making, and not something that they were likely to be aware of. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-11-09/facebook-and-twitter-contend-with-their-role-in-trump-s-victory. The result, in my opinion, is a partisan environment, easily manipulated.

This was true: “News feed optimizes for engagement,” Goodlatte wrote. “As we’ve learned in this election, bullshit is highly engaging.” But not this: "In the past, Facebook has pushed back publicly against these concerns with a simple premise: News feed is just an amplification of what people would experience in a world without it."

People have always been able to isolate themselves into their own tribal echo chambers. They may have been born into a group separate from the rest of surrounding society. There are elements here of the sorts of economic dislocations and disparities that have led to unrest and the rise of charismatic leaders. There are certainly parallels with events of the past. But social media does introduce a new element of rapidity.

January 22, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

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