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Thread: Working against deliberate misinformation campaigns

  1. #1
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    Thumbs up Working against deliberate misinformation campaigns

    It happens with climate science, and it happens with every science. How to win against anti-science lies.


    https://phys.org/news/2019-01-reveal...formation.html

    Research reveals strategies for combating science misinformation
    January 14, 2019, Yale University

    Just as the scientific community was reaching a consensus on the dangerous reality of climate change, the partisan divide on climate change began to widen. That might seem like a paradox, but it's also no coincidence, says Justin Farrell, a professor of sociology at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). It was around this time that an organized network, funded by organizations with a lot to lose in a transition to a low-carbon economy, started to coalesce around the goal of undercutting the legitimacy of climate science. Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, Farrell and two co-authors illustrate how a large-scale misinformation campaign has eroded public trust in climate science and stalled efforts to achieve meaningful policy, but also how an emerging field of research is providing new insights into this critical dynamic.
    There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
    Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883)

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    Thank you for sharing that - it seems like not just things like conspiracy theories but a very anti-science kind of thinking (decide what's true then cherry pick the information to support what you think) is swarming out of the woodwork. I work in science education and it feels like there is a general swing toward undermining science and the credibility of scientists, and it worries the hell out of me.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger E. Moore View Post
    Working against deliberate misinformation campaigns
    What bothers me is that outright lying to the public is not a crime. Free speech and all that. Don't seem right. And the only recourse that I've heard is free speech in opposition to the lies. Man, that seems pretty weak.

    I guess the problem is, there are a lot of pretty ignorant, gullible people in this country. So the standard answer is "education." Now we have people denigrating that! deriding universities as training grounds for "elitists." It's a darn sad state of affairs!
    Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

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    Does anyone here take part in active debunking - e.g. joining conspiracy websites and (with great manners and respect) debunking and offering evidence and reason based viewpoints. It's a mistake, I think, to assume that they will just go away. We live in a time when popular opinion, driven by less than factual data, is proving to be apowerful force. In the end reality catches up with everyone - but a lot of harm can be done between now and 'in the end'.

  5. #5
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    If someone is not going to listen, there is no point. I leave them alone to do whatever.
    There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
    Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883)

  6. #6
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    Only within my own industry and it's an exhausting and despiriting uphill struggle. As a manufacturer and evidence based engineer, it is sad to be told in effect, "we don't want experts' opinions, you are just trying to sell."
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    I don't hold out any real hope of changing the mind of a true conspiracy theorist, but every post pushing the point of view of evidence and good logic helps (I hope) make it a bit less likely that someone with a poor science background, coming to the site out of curiosity, will get sucked in. I've been working on one forum, which I wont name since I don't want to be promoting them, but it's my busy (exam) time now so I'm taking a break - for the sake of my sanity too: My wife called me out as caving to my obsessive streak after I was still, at 3am, debating a guy who'd made it clear at the start of his thread "evidence can always be faked in principle, therefore obviously I don't need to actually see any flaws in your evidence to be fully justified in suspecting it's fake". I could have just put the laptop down but it would have kept me from sleeping to have left what they were saying unchallenged (my own pridefulness and neurosis at work there)

    That's the 's*** shovelling' aspect of it, and yes it's draining, and as I said I hold out no hope of changing the mind of someone like that (at least, not until they hit paranoid rock bottom). But this kind of thinking seems to be being encouraged and these groups are getting more and more of a media platform. Oh what a wonderful system we have, where popularity and profitability outweigh truth so easily, but I digress.

    I think those of us who care about science and keeping the things it does to help the world going need to be willing to do some s*** shovelling. If anyone does decide to go see the 'true believers in their temple' the debunking handbook is a good resource, and here are two interesting articles to get started with:

    https://www.theguardian.com/technolo...urvivors-truth

    https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman...lex-jones.html

    The last has some good advice - it is counterintuitive, how to best deal with some of them. The link at the top of this thread is a good one too. My own advice would be :
    1) Don't insult or mock them, give their group a belittling name, or rise to baiting and insults
    2) Don't assume that because they're living in a fantasy they're truly stupid - living in a fantasy, of some kind, at least some of the time, is a very common and human trait from what I've seen of the world.
    3) This may be obvious but make sure you've checked your own facts and logic before you wade in - you only need to offer up one flawed bit of evidence to have gone from debunking to enabling them, regardless of how many good bits of evidence you've already provided.
    4) If they show an interest in taking action on finding out the actual truth encourage them - that can sometimes mean doing their own experiments or seeking data from original, independant and /or impartial sources etc
    5) Don't think yourself defeated if you don't manage to change the mind of the person you're talking to - your target audience is the invisible (but very probable) lurkers who have come there out of curiosity.

    The number of 'debunkers' I see on facebook and other social media who clearly know no more about science than the CT's, and who seem to be there to just insult and mock the CT's is horrifying - and it's worse than useless, as that's shown to make then shut their minds to evidence and entrench. Anyway, I'm bending everyone's ears, but as I said: I work in education, and I think we have a big problem with this that is already making itself felt. We need to do what we can to address it. My 2 cents.

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    Two articles supporting science activism, teaching science literacy, and resisting disinformation.

    ===

    https://arxiv.org/abs/1812.09383

    Technology-Enabled Disinformation: Summary, Lessons, and Recommendations

    John Akers, et al. (Submitted on 21 Dec 2018 (v1), last revised 3 Jan 2019 (this version, v2))

    Technology is increasingly used -- unintentionally (misinformation) or intentionally (disinformation) -- to spread false information at scale, with potentially broad-reaching societal effects. For example, technology enables increasingly realistic false images and videos, and hyper-personal targeting means different people may see different versions of reality. This report is the culmination of a PhD-level special topics course (this https URL) in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington's Paul G. Allen School in the fall of 2018. The goals of this course were to study (1) how technologies and today's technical platforms enable and support the creation and spread of such mis- and disinformation, as well as (2) how technical approaches could be used to mitigate these issues. In this report, we summarize the space of technology-enabled mis- and disinformation based on our investigations, and then surface our lessons and recommendations for technologists, researchers, platform designers, policymakers, and users.

    ===

    http://cdsads.u-strasbg.fr/abs/2018AGUFM.U11A..06F

    Supporting science literacy and encouraging civic engagement takes work, but first, what are we doing?
    Fortner, S. K.; Wilson, C. E.
    American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2018, abstract #U11A-06 (12/2018)

    Science serves society most equitably when scientists engage with and learn from the citizens we serve. Faculty and students should be supported in this meaningful civic work through professional training and intentional curriculum. Addressing challenges to democracy like disinformation and environmental justice requires transforming how our departments, institutions, professional societies, and communities operate. To better understand the status quo and move forward, we crafted a survey of geoscience faculty and program practices focused on civic engagement and societal issues. Most geoscience faculty (88%) reported that their programs emphasized at least 3 societal issues. Yet, less than one-third of 263 faculty reported that their tenure and promotion criteria included public engagement (i.e. activities that build science literacy or inform decisions). Faculty from institutions with engagement criteria were on average 4% more likely to have participated in any of the 14 public engagement activities. Institutions that valued engagement in T&P and through faculty awards were statistically more likely to: have societally relevant program learning goals, require training for undergraduates in communication or public engagement, incorporate information literacy and policy or decision-making within courses, and participate in local or regional advisory work. Differences in faculty engagement and civic teaching practices also relate to other factors such as institutional setting, discipline, rank, gender, race, or cultural factors. Female and non-gender reporting respondents were significantly (>17%) more likely to include perspectives from underrepresented or marginalized groups within their course than males. Males and those with a rank of associate or full professor were more likely to consult with policymakers. Assistant professors were 16% more likely to share science on social media than non-tenure track faculty and 31% more likely than full professors. While establishing and improving support, policies, and practices in support of science literacy our community should take care to value a full suite of engagement and learn from examples that have successfully expanded and supported new audiences including those that broaden our demographics.
    There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
    Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883)

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by marsbug View Post
    I don't hold out any real hope of changing the mind of a true conspiracy theorist, but every post pushing the point of view of evidence and good logic helps (I hope) make it a bit less likely that someone with a poor science background, coming to the site out of curiosity, will get sucked in. I've been working on one forum, which I wont name since I don't want to be promoting them, but it's my busy (exam) time now so I'm taking a break - for the sake of my sanity too: My wife called me out as caving to my obsessive streak after I was still, at 3am, debating a guy who'd made it clear at the start of his thread "evidence can always be faked in principle, therefore obviously I don't need to actually see any flaws in your evidence to be fully justified in suspecting it's fake". I could have just put the laptop down but it would have kept me from sleeping to have left what they were saying unchallenged (my own pridefulness and neurosis at work there)

    ~~~

    We need to do what we can to address it. My 2 cents.
    Personally I have learned much lurking in the Against the Mainstream and Conspiracy Theories sections of this forum. So thank you Marsbug and many many others for all you do.


    https://xkcd.com/386/

    "What do you want me to do? LEAVE? Then they'll keep being wrong!" - Randall Munroe

  10. #10
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    It's not something I deserve thanks for, and maybe my strategy is entirely wrong, but that doesn't make me wrong to try. I'm doing this for my two kids, and just making sure they have a future at least as safe and properous as I have been given. But this is really, really imporant. Some CT's, say flat earthism or Moon landing hoaxers, are harmless enough eccentricities when viewed in isolation. But they still train people to accept the same double standards, the same anti-science, 'logic and proof only count if they can be made to support what's already believed', way of thinking. And they act as gateways into more harmful stuff.

    That more harmful stuff is already claiming and ruining lives. Here, for example: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-47940710

    So while I'm a huge XKCD fan I have to disagree with what Randal seems to be trying to say with the linked cartoon. Please, stay at the computer and argue, or look for another way to fight this stuff, if arguing really isn't working - and remeber it's about whover may be reading, not the person you're arguing with.

    If folk don't feel like going in and arguing, spread the good stuff instead. That probably works better, at least with those on the fence: Share pro-science articles, to groups where the maximum number of people can read them, join and donate to science advocacy groups. Volunteer. Please, don't just read and like something you read on facebook once in a while - actively spread the knowledge of all the good that science, and rational, evidence based thinking, does.

    Yeah I'm angry. Yeah, I'm intolerant about this. I'm entirely right to be, it's costing lives.

    Metabunk, especially the forums, also often has good stuff - it goes into a lot more depth, quickly, than you'd get just started from base and researching yourself.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cougar View Post
    What bothers me is that outright lying to the public is not a crime. Free speech and all that. Don't seem right. And the only recourse that I've heard is free speech in opposition to the lies. Man, that seems pretty weak.
    As far as I see it, some of these companies who are funding these misinformation campaigns are actually engaging in fraud. They, like ExxonMobil, did the experiments which confirmed its worst fears and then covered it up by not simply burying the results of the experiments but promoting a message counter to the evidence that it had gleaned itself. That is textbook fraud. And some governments are taking action against them for these misinformation campaigns. With these larger backers, this misinformation campaign is powerful. Without these large backers, the misinformation becomes a lot weaker against the scientific evidence. It eventually becomes similar to any ordinary conspiracy theory.

    As for the individual level of engagement, my simple suggestion is getting them to focus on what they actually know. Get them talking about family and friends. The thing about conspiracy theories is that they are very abstract and they really don't do much to these individuals. They're a distraction from real troubles they are dealing with. Get them talking about the concrete stuff in their life.
    Last edited by Xelebes; 2019-May-06 at 12:09 AM.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by marsbug View Post
    Does anyone here take part in active debunking - e.g. joining conspiracy websites and (with great manners and respect) debunking and offering evidence and reason based viewpoints. It's a mistake, I think, to assume that they will just go away. We live in a time when popular opinion, driven by less than factual data, is proving to be apowerful force. In the end reality catches up with everyone - but a lot of harm can be done between now and 'in the end'.
    Yes I do, mostly concerning Apollo hoax,though. But as Roger posted about people who won't learn, sticking to their willful ignorance.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by marsbug View Post
    and remeber it's about whover may be reading, not the person you're arguing with.
    Absolutely. Play to the audience. But, pick your battles too, because most trolls are experienced at trolling, they know how to push buttons and derail. They play to their audience, too.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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