If It’s Astonishing, Conspiracy, Depraved, Insidious, Fantastic, Unbelievable – Please Engage Brain Before Retweeting #fakenews #fake #science #psychology

False Bell Pepper Meme

Now, think about this claim. A pepper is, botanically, a fruit

Fake news and social media are in the (real) news these days, mostly in opinion pieces. But science has something to say too.

The reason fake news works is because we’re human.

Avoid temptation to shift the blame elsewhere… Even if we solve bots and the foreign interference problem, it wouldn’t solve the problem of online misinformation.

False news spreads faster than true stories, and it’s because of humans, not bots, according to a new study published today in Science. Our preference for novel news, which is often false, may be driving our behavior. axios

Researchers had a lot of data to work with – more than 4.5 million tweets between 2006 and 2017. They used six fact-checking sites (including two of my favorites, Politifact and Snopes) to determine if an item was true.

They found false stories traveled faster, farther and deeper into Twitter than the true kind. True stories took six times as long as false ones to reach 1500 people. And, false stories were 70% more likely to be retweeted.

We humans are programmed for this. I’m reminded of the notion that, if our ancestors believed there was a lion rather than wind behind rustling grass, they lived to have offspring who led to us. Our brains find it safer to believe something that confirms our fears, and so we share the item.

I suppose when you’re not constrained by reality, you can more easily contrive fun, exciting click-bait. The study says novelty grabs us, and something you never heard before is (at least on Twitter) more likely to be false. Who doesn’t love to be the first in their group to learn something new? And share it with friends?

If you’ve tut-tutted over claims about male and female bell peppers, or Mars will appear the size of the full moon tomorrow, or rumors of gang initiations that kill innocent people, or pizzagate – well, it’s just human nature, and you’re human too. It takes effort to engage all that lovely pre-frontal cortex, but please do.

BTW, before “fake news” was such a popular phrase, we had

Truthiness, the belief or assertion that a particular statement is true based on the intuition, without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts. Truthiness can range from ignorant assertions of falsehoods to deliberate duplicity or propaganda intended to sway opinions… [The word] satirized the misuse of appeal to emotion and “gut feeling” as a rhetorical device. wikipedia

Advertisements

David Beat Goliath – the Reason Why is Not What You Think #review #bookreview #history #bible

Surprise - moral of the story not what you think“David and Goliath” teaches a lesson, but not the lesson you expect. Modern readers misunderstand the story and have the original message wrong. That is so cool, I’m reviewing this non-fiction book for my news post.

We think of David as a hopeless underdog facing an unbeatable foe, saved only by divine intervention. “No one in ancient times would have doubted David’s tactical advantage once it was known he was an expert in slinging.”

Ancient soldiers using slingshots were as formidable as archers. Goliath was a sitting duck, a heavily armored infantry warrior. There was no way he could chase down and engage David.

What we commonly think of as strengths and weaknesses can be very different in reality, and the underdog wins more often than we expect. This book covers varying subjects such as children of wealthy parents, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, primary school class sizes, deterring crime, and girls’ basketball. Gladwell offers individual stories and adds research to generalize his points. What you think you know ain’t so – delightful.

Advantages may make someone stronger for a while, until getting “more” becomes a weakness. The once-stronger side focuses on what worked in the past and how things “should” be done, blind to the challenge that confronts them.

Consider “wars over the last two hundred years – how often do you think the [more powerful] side wins? Most of us would put that number at close to 100 percent… [but] just under a third of the time, the weaker country wins.”

Children of wealthy parents can be less self-sufficient than their peers.

There is an optimum class size for elementary school but Americans obsess over reducing class sizes: “77 percent of Americans think that it makes more sense to… lower class sizes than to raise [good] teachers’ salaries. Do you know how few things 77 percent of Americans agree on?”

“Cracking down” on criminals and insurgents often makes the problem worse. For people to obey an authority, they must feel that the authority is fair. “What matters in deterrence is what matters to offenders.” When legitimacy is lost, offenders become willing to bear extreme forms of punishment. For example, “a reasonable assessment of the research to date is that [extreme] sentence severity has no effect on the level of crime in society.”

Personally, I believe that what really happens in the world is vital to pursuing what should happen. We’re wasting time and money while defeating our own goals.

This short book offers an important argument: the upside Surprise - the story's moral not what you thinkdown “U” of strength and weakness. Advantages that strengthen you for a while can top out and become liabilities.

Before you double-down on an action, think about this and consider what the evidence tells you.

BTW, Goliath may have suffered acromegaly: speculation on the diseases of historical figures is always intriguing. I found the story of David and Goliath surprisingly interesting and fun; much better than the “favorite Bible stories for children” sort of idea I had before.

PS: I read a digital version of Gladwell’s book. After the cover and title pages is a “welcome” with links to “Begin Reading.” The table of contents, and copyright page come after the text. Since on-line retailers offer previews starting at page one, this arrangement gives the reader the maximum preview of text, and placing typical front-matter at the end is no inconvenience in an ebook. Ebooks are evolving and I enjoy the format.

Is Perception Reality? #psychology #science #education #WW2 #history

There’s a lot of discussion these days about how media influences people – both real and fake news. I ran across an interesting example that predates our current political mess by decades: Mad Gasser of Mattoon in 1944

ANESTHETIC PROWLER ON LOOSE
Mrs. Kearney and Daughter First Victims
Both Recover; Robber Fails to Get Into Home

Even for a newspaper, that’s a lot of assumptions: first, that these were only the “first” victims; second, that the prowler was using some sort of anesthetic; and third, that he was a robber. But it was enough. Within days, several more people called police saying that they too had been attacked by the prowler they read about in the newspaper. Their stories were published in the paper on September 5, owing to no publications on Sunday and the Labor Day holiday.

And that’s when the real melee began.

MAD ANESTHETIST STRIKES AGAIN

STATE HUNTS GAS MADMAN

[Then] the character of the newspaper reports changed dramatically. The headlines became: THE MANHUNT FOR MR. NOBODY

And as soon as that became the tone, suddenly there were zero more police reports. skeptoid.com

No residue of gas or lasting symptoms were observed, no gas is known to cause all the symptoms reported, and no prowler was ever caught – though there is an anecdotal suggestion that the initial attack could have been real.

In 1945 the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology published one research article on the Mad Gasser.

Comparing newspaper space in square inches to the number of reports showed a very apparent causal effect. If the morning newspapers dedicated more space to the Gasser, more reports came in that day. And the Mad Gasser was as silent as the newspapers during that initial 2-day Labor Day publishing break.

The Mad Gasser of Mattoon became one of the most famous case studies in mass hysteria. skeptoid.com

A tense and fearful public was primed during wartime to believe with little evidence.

Consider Americans today, reading and viewing stories over and over, day after day. Maybe a single story gets repeated a dozen times – it feels as if it happened a dozen times.

As individuals zero in on fewer outlets, they get caught in the echo chamber of their own fears, hopes, and biases. Depending on which rabbit hole each of us chooses to fall down, we end up in living in different worlds. With so much media available, one outlet abandoning a debunked story has little affect.

No one can save us from ourselves.