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

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Does Reality Matter? #reality #science #politics #dnc #rnc #reason

Hartwig HKD

Hartwig HKD

I usually stay away from politics on this blog, but America’s two major political parties have their conventions in July so it’s hard to resist. The Republicans are done and the Democrats are about to begin. Conventions are an opportunity to revel in the echo chamber, to be surrounded by those who agree with you.

And to ignore facts in favor of politics.

I was reminded of that by a piece in Live Science. This article fact-checks truthiness in the Republican platform but I don’t doubt you’ll find similar fabrications when the Democrats issue their platform. It seems that anyone zealously bound to a position is immune to information. Each extreme dismisses different facts, but they both do it.

Even a depressing reality is better than a fantasy however pleasant, because reality wins in the end. I try to read multiple opinions and fact-checks, and to be ready to change my mind. It takes conscious effort.

Once a human being embraces a position, proofs and facts are abandoned, and showing a person contradictory facts just makes them more angry and more determined to dig in deeper.

That’s because we are each grounded in moral foundations deeply important to our vision of who we are – more important than any fact.

Friendly relations, commonality, and trust make it easier for people to listen to each other. More important than presenting facts is establishing bonds with people before you try to convince them. Try it. You might both see the issue in a new light.

I read a book with insight to this aspect of human behavior and reviewed it here for a friend’s blog. I also posted a piece on how to talk with people who disagree with you: Don’t be a jerk.

Keep in mind what Carl Sagan said:

In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.

This is why science inspires me and also why I’m optimistic about the future. Let your open heart lead to an open mind and we can build a better world.