Tag Archives: propaganda

Ways to deal with those guilty of causing the fake news epidemic

Summary: The surge of talk about fake news highlights this important problem. We have an increasingly tribal view of the world, each tribe with its own lies — and contempt for those who disagree (especially experts). Our gullibility makes us easy to rule. But censorship will not fix the problem because it addresses the effects, not the causes. This post points to the guilty parties.

Unless we see & remember, news is the 21st C's opiate of the masses.

“There’s none so blind as they that won’t see.”
— Jonathan Swift’s Polite Conversation (c. 1738).

Content

  1. Making ourselves dumber.
  2. Causes of fake news?
  3. Reforming America.
  4. Distinguishing good from bad sources.
  5. For More Information.

 

(1) Making ourselves dumber

For ten years the FM website has reported the rise of “fake news” (I wish I had thought of that name). Now journalists have discovered this social disease, from a Buzzfeed study showing that “Fake Election News Stories Outperformed Real News On Facebook“. Both Left and Right see it only in their foes, insisting that their tribal truths are factual.

Comments on the FM website show this dynamic in action. Its diverse readership is ideologically diverse. Readers squeal with rage when their biases are peeled off like scabs and exposed to daylight. It is equally clear on Twitter, as unfollows surge following tweets of facts that disturb the sleep of ideologues on the Left or Right.

Propaganda magnifies the power of our elites. It recruits people to useful causes, prevents people from finding common ground against the 1%, and mints money (fake news sites are baskets of linkbait for advertisers). Zero Hedge is a classic example. Fox News is the ur-example (the Right is more successfully commercial at this game).

Fake news websites institutionalize this process, and profit from it. These engines of disinformation produce slanted streams of over-simplified information and exaggerated conclusions, mockery of those (especially experts) with different viewpoints, and outright lies. These induce and boost tribalism, closing their audience off from other viewpoints, other knowledge, awareness of uncertainties, and the ability to form balanced viewpoints. These websites are, I fear, increasingly becoming one of the major sources of news to Americans. No matter how intelligent and well-educated the readers, relying on these websites makes them dumber.

No wonder we have become polarized as a nation, when we cannot agree on simple facts. How can we find a common future, when we cannot begin discussions about values and trade-offs because each side considers the other — correctly — deluded about simple things.

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A new survey reveals American’s top fears, showing our true selves

Summary: The Chapman University Survey reveals American’s top fears. Many of them are exaggerated; some are delusional, most are influenced by the sea of propaganda that blankets America. Here we see one reason why the reform of America is so difficult.

Fearful faces in the dark

For the third year, the Chapman University Survey of American Fears asked 1,500+ adult Americans about their fears (details here). The slide show presentation of their results appears below, with a video at the end of the post. The top 10 things we fear the most are…fearful woman

  1. Corruption of government officials (also #1 in 2015).
  2. Terrorist attacks.
  3. Not having enough money for the future.
  4. Being a victim of terror. {Twice on the list!}
  5. Government restrictions on firearms and ammunition.
  6. People I love dying.
  7. Economic or financial collapse.
  8. Identity theft.
  9. People I love becoming seriously ill.
  10. The Affordable Health Care Act/”Obamacare”.

 

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Ignoring science to convince the public that we’re doomed by climate change

Summary: The news has become stranger since the climate policy debate has decoupled from the IPCC. Ludicrous claims of certain doom and nightmarish futures splash across the headlines, seldom with rebuttals (climate scientists are complicit in their silence). This one-sided flow of “news” will shape public opinion slowly but surely, creating support for bold measures by President Clinton. Activists are panicking the public for political gain.

“I think looking at grief is quite appropriate, as I believe we are facing human extinction”
— Comment by a reader on the FM website.

Earth as inferno

“The more immediate danger is runaway climate change. A rise in ocean temperatures will melt the ice caps and cause the release of large amounts of carbon dioxide from the ocean floor. Both effects could make our climate like that of Venus, with a temperature of 250 degrees.”

— Nobel laureate physicist Stephen Hawking on “Good morning Britain on NBC News’ U.K. news partner, ITV News in May 2016.

This was reported as “Earth DOOMED by climate change which could burn us alive, warns Stephen Hawking” by Sean Martin in The Daily Express, 31 May 2016.

We have heard this story before. The BBC hinted at it last year; Hawking has said it before. There is no support for this in the IPCC’s reports and little (perhaps none) in the peer-reviewed literature. There are papers clearly saying the opposite, such as “Low simulated radiation limit for runaway greenhouse climates” by Colin Goldblatt el al, Nature Geoscience, August 2013 — Gated. See the press release here. Excerpt…

“The so-called `hothouse’ climate of the Eocene is the most useful constraint for anthropogenic change. With the solar constant 1% less than today and a few thousand ppmv CO2, the mean temperature was 10 K warmer than today. With CO2 and temperature both higher then than we expect in the foreseeable future, this implies that an anthropogenic runaway greenhouse is unlikely.

“…As the solar constant increases with time, Earth’s future is analogous to Venus’s past. We expect a runaway greenhouse on Earth 1.5 billion years hence if water is the only greenhouse gas, or sooner if there are others.”

While peer-reviewed analysis is good, it is obvious that Earth cannot become Venus in any policy-relevant time. See the NASA fact sheets for Venus and for Earth. They explain that…

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Five trillion is a red line. Cross it and the environment crashes.

Summary: Here are three stories about environmental destruction, all featuring “five trillion” as the horrific number. Scary stories. Are they accurate?

To understand a trillion, look at it in cash

What is a trillion dollars?

(1) Five trillion tons of ice has melted!

5 Trillion Tons of Ice Lost Since 2002” by climate propagandist Phil Plait at Slate.

“…land ice loss is perhaps most important as a political trigger; the sheer amount of land ice being lost every year is immediate, here, now. And the numbers are staggering … From 2002 to mid-November 2014 — less than 13 years — the combined land ice loss from Antarctica and Greenland is more than 5 trillion tons. Five. Trillion. Tons. That’s beyond staggering; that’s almost incomprehensible. It’s a volume of about 5,700 cubic kilometers, a cube of ice nearly 18 kilometers — more than 11 miles — on a side.”

This is vintage propaganda, giving big numbers with no context. Much as the Right does with the Federal deficit (which if converted into pennies could build a bridge to Mars!).

The total mass of Earth’s ice is roughly 33 thousand trillion metric tons (per table 2 of 2013 USGS; other estimates differ). Five trillion metric tons over 13 years is 0.112% per year.  At that rate the Earth’s ice will melt in 6,600 86,000 years. What level of technology will we have in a thousand years? Children in the year 3,000 will probably consider conflate burning oil and cow dung, both things done by primitive people in the dark ages.

Also, estimates of Antarctica’s ice loss differ widely. A December 2015 NASA study found that Antarctica gained ice mass from 1992-2008 (see the press release).

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New research: Social scientists look for climate denial – and find it

Summary: The social science literature about climate change includes many oddities. A new hot paper about climate denial adds to that list, and illustrates why the climate policy debate has become gridlocked.

Denialism

Another social science study of climate deniers makes waves on the Left: “Text-mining the signals of climate change doubt” by Constantine Boussalis and Travis G. Coan in the highly-ranked journal Global Environmental Change, January 2016. The abstract reads like real news…

“…This study contributes to the literature on organized climate scepticism by providing the first systematic overview of conservative think tank sceptical discourse in nearly 15 years. Specifically, we

  1. compile the largest corpus of contrarian literature to date, collecting over 16,000 documents from 19 organizations over the period 1998–2013;
  2. introduce a methodology to measure key themes in the corpus which scales to the substantial increase in content generated by conservative think tanks over the past decade; and
  3. leverage this new methodology to shed light on the relative prevalence of science- and policy-related discussion among conservative think tanks.”

“We find little support for the claim that “the era of science denial is over” — instead, discussion of climate science has generally increased over the sample period.”

The authors execute these goals described in the three bullets with detail and skill. From which they draw the conclusion of the last sentence. But their evidence provides little support for that conclusion; it is almost irrelevant to it. They state their conclusions in more detail. …

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Daniel Davies’ insights about predictions can unlock the climate change debate

Summary: Here are three powerful insights by Daniel Davies about predictions by experts. He used them to predict the outcome of the Iraq War. This post applies them to the public policy debate about climate change; you can use them to provide insights on other intractable problems.  This is another in a series about validating the case for public policy action to fight climate change.

Solutions

Daniel Davies is a London-based analyst and stockbroker; he writes at his blog and the Leftist website Crooked Timber. Here he explains how he was able to accurately predict the disastrous outcome of our invasion of Iraq (different entirely from the theory-based predictions of those using history and 4GW). It is well-worth reading in full. His insights have great power and apply to many business and public policy issues — such as climate change. Excerpt…

… Here’s a few of the ones I learned {at business school} which I considered relevant to judging the advisability of the Second Iraq War.

Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance.

I was first made aware of this during an accounting class. …

Fibbers’ forecasts are worthless.

Case after miserable case after bloody case we went through, I tell you, all of which had this moral. … If you have doubts about the integrity of a forecaster, you can’t use their forecasts at all. Not even as a “starting point”. …

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Are we “choking the ocean with plastic”? Tracing creation of a myth.

Summary: Many of the scary stories of our time result from interactions between actual science, activist scientists, and clickbait-seeking journalists. “We’re choking the ocean with plastic” is one such tale, showing how real problems become masked by myths. This leaves us divided and unable to respond to our problems, as neither Left nor Right clearly see the world. Meanwhile, overfishing, pollution, and habitat destruction are wrecking the oceans.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The first recorded sighting of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was by oceanographer Charles J. Moore (heir to oil wealth, now an environmental activist) when sailing home after a race in 1999. Here is how he describes it (from “Trashed”, Natural History, Nov 2003). Too bad he did not bring a camera to record it!

“Day after day, Alguita was the only vehicle on a highway without landmarks, stretching from horizon to horizon. Yet as I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a pristine ocean, I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic.

“It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot. In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments. Months later, after I discussed what I had seen with the oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer, perhaps the world’s leading expert on flotsam, he began referring to the area as the “eastern garbage patch.” But “patch” doesn’t begin to convey the reality. Ebbesmeyer has estimated that the area, nearly covered with floating plastic debris, is roughly the size of Texas.”

Much of this seems odd. There are patches of debris, but no such masses of plastic “as far as the eye can see”. There is much plastic, but most is barely visible to the eye — and lies under the surface.

Like all good stories, it grew over time. From “Choking the Oceans with Plastic” — his 2014 op-ed in the New York Times: “We even came upon a floating island bolstered by dozens of plastic buoys used in oyster aquaculture that had solid areas you could walk on.” Again no photo of the floating island, let alone of him walking on it.

Moore becomes somewhat more accurate when confronted by a knowledgeable journalist, such as Suzanne Bohan in this 2011 article: “It’s not something you can walk on, or see from a satellite. We’ve always tried to dispel that fact,” Or in this quote of him from The Independent: “The original idea that people had was that it was an island of plastic garbage that you could almost walk on. It is not quite like that. It is almost like a plastic soup. It is endless for an area that is maybe twice the size as continental United States.”

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