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Monday, December 26, 2016

Blind Spot, Part II


Ahmed: Another ship arrived during the night. There’s a boy standing out there on the bow. Like he’s a statue.
Melchisidek: The boy is letting them see him.
Ahmed: He’s in plain sight!
Melchisidek: They do not know if what they see is real. Something to do with the mist. Apparently they find dangerous things, spirits, in the mist. The boy was being … polite. Giving them time to decide if he’s real.
   -- The 13th Warrior, Touchstone Pictures, 1999


How do you know?

How do you know if what you see is real?

In the previous essay, I used Michael Crichton’s Westworld as an analogy for the fluid virtual reality we now face.

Crichton was a master of creating fictional realities based on science, religion, politics, and whatever his fertile imagination could dream up for seasoning. He was a science fiction writer, that’s what they do.

So it seems fitting to use another of his creations as an example here.

In the movie The 13th Warrior, based on Crichton’s novel Eaters of the Dead, the entire story is about deception, layer upon layer of it. As one of the characters says, Deception is the point! and nothing is as it seems.  The poet who claims he’s not a warrior is skilled with a blade. The Vikings who first appear to be dumb brutes hide calm reason and keen intelligence. The monsters appear to be half man, half beast, but even they aren’t what they seem. 

Crichton based his novel in large part on the Syrian risala of Aḥmad ibn Faḍlān who described an embassy expedition sent by the Caliph of Baghdad in 921 C.E. to meet with the King of the Bulgars of the Middle Volga. There, Ahmad, claims to have encountered a group of traders from the north called The Rusiyyah, or Rus, a people of supposed Scandinavian origin, and to have witnessed the funeral of a Viking chieftain.

For many years historians have argued over the veracity of Ahmad and his descriptions of the Rus. At first, the experts weren’t even certain if Ahmad ibn Faḍlān really existed. Some academics claimed with authority that the risala was simply a fiction cobbled together over the years from many different oral histories. But eventually an authentic text was discovered and those in a position to know have over time come to agree in broad strokes that an Arab scholar named Ahmad ibn Faḍlān did indeed journey north in the early years of the 10th Century into what is now modern day Russia. Exactly who the Rus were and what role they might have played in the creation of Russia is still subject to academic debate. 

What is more certain however is this: even if the overall tale of Ahmad’s travels is true, his descriptions of what he regarded as a primitive and savage people are filtered through his own bias, perhaps deliberately so for cultural, religious, and political reasons.  Faḍlān’s description of the northerners was, at times, somewhat less than flattering:

§ 83. They are the filthiest of God's creatures. They have no modesty in defecation and urination, nor do they wash after pollution from orgasm, nor do they wash their hands after eating. Thus they are like wild asses.

§ 84. Every day they must wash their faces and heads and this they do in the dirtiest and filthiest fashion possible: to wit, every morning a girl servant brings a great basin of water; she offers this to her master and he washes his hands and face and his hair. He washes it and combs it out with a comb in the water; then he blows his nose and spits into the basin. When he has finished, the servant carries the basin to the next person, who does likewise. She carries the basin thus to all the household in turn, and each blows his nose, spits, and washes his face and hair in it.

Given what is known of Scandinavian culture from that time, and given Faḍlān was a strict Muslim (in fact, his role in the expedition was as a religious advisor) with very specific hygiene requirements dictated by his religion, it’s likely that he was exaggerating just a bit (though the morning toilet made it into the movie verbatim as a frame around the quote that opens this article. Because it made for a graphic description of the differences between the two cultures).

Whatever the truth, Crichton took that tale and reworked it into a more compelling fiction and then combined that with the Viking legend of Beowulf to create Eaters of the Dead.

And then Hollywood reworked that into a movie.

As such, The 13th Warrior is a tale of deception based on a possibly even greater deception and as the story says, “they do not know if what they see is real.”

 

So, how do you know?

 

In Blind Spot, Part I, I talked about fake news and conspiracy theories and the danger of an administration that isolates itself from reality (as best we can determine it).

I got hundreds of responses, in comments and email and social media messages. All of which can be boiled down to this: Yeah, but how do you know?

How do you know what is real and what is just another imagined spirit in the mist?

How do you separate the fake world from the real one?

Our reality is a manufactured construct which we all agree (or not) to live in and because we are human that world is only partially based on fact and reason and verified evidence. The world we inhabit often consists of viewpoints shaped by our own politics, by religion (or not), by community (or not), and increasingly by an unending barrage of media – both commercial and social. To some extent, we each shape our view of this world by choosing what information we are exposed to, a process commonly referred to as confirmation bias – though there is much more to it than just that. We often accept the information we want to believe as true, and reject that which we don’t as false. All of us do this to varying degrees, it’s part of being human. Education and training, critical thinking, experience (or not) all temper that process, again to varying degrees.

But even the best education and training and decades of experience can’t prevent the human mind from seeing spirits of its own imagining in the mist.

This is one of the biggest pitfalls of intelligence work. That is, you tend to see the things you want to and be blind to the things you don’t. This is also true of other fields, and is common in politics, religion, and science alike – the difference being that science done right is self-correcting, politics and religion tend to be self-reinforcing (intelligence work far too often falls somewhere between those poles). 

So, how do you know?

How do you know what is real, truly real, and what isn’t?

 

Assuming that you want to make the distinction in the first place – not everybody does.

 

How do you know what is real?

Earlier this week the Associated Press reported a man in Mississippi had been arrested for burning down an African-American church after spray-painting “Vote Trump!” on the building’s walls.

Is that true?

Did that really happen?

Well, let’s see. The church was certainly burned. On November 1st, eight days before the 2016 General Election, police and firefighters responded to a blaze at the Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi. The historic black church had been vandalized with spray-painted slogans and set on fire.

The church exists. There are property records of such a church. There are pictures. You can find it on Google Street View:

 

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As to the crime itself, there are multiple press reports based on multiple sources that can be verified. There are police and fire department reports as part of the public record. There are eye witnesses.

As such, there’s a very high probability verging on 100% that the event as initially reported is true: The church does exist, it is a historically African-American church, it was vandalized, it was set on fire. And really, a black church, vandalized, arson, Mississippi, how many examples from history of similar events do you need in addition to the basic facts?

Now, I suppose you could, at this point, dismiss the incident altogether.

Never happened.

No such church.

No such fire.

I don’t believe it. False flag. Fake news. Created by unknown persons for reasons unknown.

And the world is such that there are in fact people who believe exactly that and there is little that can be done short of institutionalization (or perhaps time travel) to correct that extremist viewpoint.

However, short of driving to Greenville yourself and personally checking the race of the congregation and shifting the ashes with your own bare hands, there’s a point where you have to accept certain things as fact even though you personally haven’t witnessed them or put your hands on them.

Anything else verges on paranoid schizophrenia.

Most of us had little trouble believing the initial reports.

Most of us.

But that’s where it starts, right there,  because a significant number of people do indeed doubt that aforementioned history ever happened – just as there are those who deny the Holocaust or the Moon Landings, or the guy who showed up in my social media feed last week who doesn’t believe there are such things as nuclear weapons,  a surprise to the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki I’m sure. And no amount of proof, no evidence, nothing, can convince them otherwise.

But here’s the problem: there is the very barest chance that they may be, if you squint your eyes, correct.

See, facts don’t always tell the entire story.

Human beings aren’t robots, we aren’t computers. We always, always every time, see even indisputable fact through the lens of our own bias – just as Ahmed ibn Faḍlān viewed the Vikings he encountered though the lens of his own civilization and religion. And so, beyond the facts, we read the reports of that burned church and formed our opinions of what must have happened based on how we see the world, on what we believe history to be.

And today?

Well, the man arrested, the arsonist, it turns out he’s black.

And a member of the congregation.

Ah ha!

Right? Ah. Ha.

Ah ha! So it was a black guy who faked a hate crime trying to make white Trump supporters look like the bad guys! Ah HA! I knew it! and you don’t have to go very far to find that exact response.

 

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When the story first broke, I wanted it to be true.

I wanted to believe the worst about Donald Trump and his supporters. That’s my bias. I’d seen the Klan and the Neo-Nazis at his rallies. Hell, a number of them got me temporarily banned from Facebook because they didn’t like something I said. Those people were real, no fooling, self-declared Nazis. Racists. Bigots. Trump Supporters. That’s not hyperbole, they proudly self-identified as such.

So when this story first broke, black church, vote Trump, Mississippi, arson, I wanted to believe the worst.

I wanted to believe the worst, I wanted to believe some racist sheet-wearing Stormtrumper was responsible. And that’s the problem, I wanted to believe it.

But I was afraid right from the start that it might turn out this way.

You see, wanting it to be true doesn’t make it true.

And today police have in custody a black man, a member of the congregation, who vandalized his own church in order to make us, all of us, believe Trump supporters are racist villains. And if you’re one of those Trump supporters, isn’t that exactly what you wanted to believe when you first read this story?

But again, wanting it to be true doesn’t make it true and it turns out both viewpoints are likely wrong. 

You see, investigators now believe the crime was not politically or racially motivated at all. 

It seems Andrew McClinton (McClinton? OMG!) has a criminal history and might have vandalized the church to cover up a robbery and the racial tensions of this election simply provided a convenient cover. 

So where does that leave us?

Is this fake news?

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A hoax? No. That it wasn’t.

The building really was burned.

The words “vote Trump” really were painted on the walls.

That’s not a hoax. A hoax would be if the congregation faked a fire or lied about it actually having happened. This isn’t that. This is a real event, it’s just the motivations we assumed were behind it are likely incorrect.

So, is it real news then? A case of somebody trying to create fake news by exploiting racism and political triggers to hide another crime altogether?

Is that real news or is it fake news?

 

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Coincidence?

Actually, yes it is coincidence.

Or maybe if not coincidence per se, then a case of opportunity.

The arsonist attempted to exploit political conditions and racial prejudice to hide the criminal actions that were his real motivation.  That’s not fake news, that’s real news. It’s just not the real news we wanted to hear and so some of us refuse to believe it. And predictably, white people responding to the revelation that the arsonist was a black man seem to forget all those times a white person created a fictitious black man to hide their crimes. Ashley Todd, for example, who in 2008 went so far as to carve a “B” into her own face … and then blame a black Obama supporter for it. Or how about Susan Smith in 1994, who murdered her children by rolling her car into a lake with her two young boys strapped into car seats … and then blamed a fictitious black man. How about Brian Wells? Remember him? This guy was committed to his duplicity. He’s the pizza delivery man who entered an Erie, Pennsylvania, bank in 2003 with a bomb strapped to his neck. He claimed he’d been abducted by a group of, yep, black men who were forcing him to rob the bank. The bomb detonated and Wells lost his head. Turns out he was in on the plot. He and his white friends came up with the whole thing. 

All of those things were news – even though the people involved were engaged in fakery and fraud for their own ends.

And so, again, where does that leave us?

Is reporting on fake news real news?

Or is reporting fake news fake news in and of itself? (Yeah, that sentence was just as hard to type as you might imagine).

Well?

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Why doesn’t headline say “black man arrested for burning black church?”

If it was a white man, the commenter opines, they’d say so. The media thrives off [starting] shit.

Well, there’s some truth to this. That’s the nature of the beast. We could wish it otherwise, but the reality (heh heh) is that shit sells copy and that’s our fault.

However, there’s also a lot of untruth in that statement and it doesn’t take much to find it.

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Congregation member.

Black man.

Pictures of a black man.

Many headlines do say that a black man was arrested for burning down a black church. Many don’t. If you look carefully, you’ll see that in the sample provided it’s conservative sources which emphasize black and more liberal sources that just use a picture or the phrase member of.

Is that significant? Yes. No. Maybe.

Depends on how you see the world, doesn’t it?

Information, news, how we see facts, are all biased in one fashion or another and to varying degrees. How much importance we attach to that bias is a function of education, training, experience, emotion, habit, and a thousand other subjective factors.

Is it fake news because we just didn’t have all the facts at first, so we filled in the blanks with our own suspicions?

Moreover, can you now point to this story as reason not to trust any news report?

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Some Liberals will do or say anything.

Well, yes, that’s true. But, so will some conservatives. It’s a human trait, not a political one.

Beyond that, Is McClinton’s duplicity evidence that none of Donald Trump’s supporters are racists? Including those who are openly members of the Aryan Nations and the Ku Klux Klan?

Is this story evidence that the “real” racists are black people?

Can you now point to McClinton’s duplicity as proof all other hate crimes reported by the press are fake?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you’re engaged in a logical fallacy.

 

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The simple truth is that in this case, the fact – the facts – don’t really help you.

We all, most of us anyway, can agree on the facts. At least in this instance.

But we see this situation the way Ahmad ibn Faḍlān saw the Rus.

That is to say, the “truth” depends on who we are.

 

“Rationality seems to have fallen out of vogue. People don’t know what to believe anymore. Everything is really strange right now.”
-- Brooke Binkowski, managing editor, Snopes

 

How do you know?

How do you know if President Obama really ordered a ban on all Christmas cards to overseas servicemen because the Christian holiday supposedly offends Muslims?

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It should be obvious that’s real fake news (I know. Sorry. Won’t happen again).

It should be obvious, but it’s not. At least not for a lot people who’ve been forwarding this fraud via social media with varying degrees of outrage.

But how do you know?

Simple, ask yourself this: Do I want it to be true?

Do I want it to be true? Yes or no. In this case, a certain segment of the population does want it to be true. They want it to be true in the worst way. They want to believe that Barack Obama would do such a thing, that he’d cater to foreigners – to a religion they see as foreign and hostile – at the expense of not only his own countrymen but the very heroes who keep us safe.  They want to believe Muslims are so intolerant they’d be offended by non-Muslims receiving Christmas Cards. They want to believe there’s a war on their religion, on their holiday, that they are somehow ultimately the victims of this terrible offense. And they want to share this outrage with others who inhabit their viewpoint because it confirms that worldview.

But it’s more than that.

Social Media makes it worse because it amplifies our worst tendencies. Post a good conspiracy meme to your Facebook page and you’re likely to get noticed, you’ll get comments and likes, arguments, agreement, attention. Noticed. You’re the guy with the news, people want to be your friend. Even if you suspect it’s not true, you want it to be. You want to share it, just so you can be that guy with the clever thing for a moment.

What?

What’s that? Oh you don’t think that’s a real driver behind the spread of information? That need for attention? That need for social validation? Really?

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You live in a country (you Americans anyway) where your fellows put a sticker on the back of their car so the people behind them will know what kind of cooler they own.  Because keeping your beer chilled in a $400 plastic box is a status symbol and owning one gives you bragging rights over the mundanes who have to make do with a Coleman. And if you spend any time on social media at all, it doesn’t take long to realize that people who derive some kind of social status from a goddamned icebox, really, really care about the number of clicks and likes and shares they get and it doesn’t really matter to them if what they post is true or not.

I digress.

Do I want this to be true? If so, why?

That’s how you start. That’s the hardest step, that first one right there. Because you have to be honest with yourself.

You can’t find the truth if you start out by lying to yourself.

Do I want this to be true? Yes or no.

Wanting it to be true doesn’t make it true.

Wanting it to be true doesn’t make it false either. But you have to consciously fight against confirmation bias and just like in science, or in good intelligence work, the more you want it to be true the greater should be your skepticism.

That’s step One.

From there, at least in this case, it’s a simple matter of reason and fact checking:

Did President Obama really ban Christmas cards to troops overseas?

1. Censorship is an extremely touchy subject in the US.  There are both political and practical reasons why censorship of military mail directed by the president would be improbable at this point in time. Large scale censorship of military mail has been done in the past, however no program for such currently exists.  Reviewing each piece of mail, hundreds of thousands of items, would require a very large workforce at multiple facilities, both military and civilian, and would require extensive oversight. Which in turn would require federal funding. Which in turn would require legislation. Which would a) have to be approved by a Congress dominated by conservatives largely opposed to anything originating with President Obama, and b) be a matter of public record. No legislation? Then no funding. No funding, no censorship.

No such legislation exists.

2. The president would have to implement such an action via Executive Order. Executive Orders are a matter of public record. Each Executive Order is an official document and property of the United States, the text of which is recorded in the Federal Register and promulgated to the appropriate Department Secretary or Agency Head via official message. In this case President Obama would have had to issue an Executive Order to the Secretary of Defense, who would then have issued his own directive to the Joint Chiefs, who would then task the Service Branches, who would then have to issue orders to the appropriate units under their respective commands. Those directives and orders would have to include authorization, a schedule of implementation and duration, the specific units and locations affected, allocation of manpower and assets (such as facilities to do the censorship in), instructions for training that manpower, specific guidelines for implementation, funding, some manner of determining effectiveness, and instructions for reporting. At a minimum. Given the controversial nature of such an order, more than likely the tasking would have to be vastly more specific and extensive.

No such Executive Order exists.

No such military tasking exists.

No such funding. No such allocation of manpower and resources exist.

3. Military Regulation, specifically DoD 4525.6-M The Department of Defense Postal Manual, section C2 specifically prohibits (with one exception) censorship of military mail. (That one exception? Handling of mail for enemy prisoners of war detained in US facilities as detailed in section C2.17).  For the military postal system to censor mail, that regulation would have to be modified by official order.

No such order exists.

4. If you go to the official White House Website, you will immediately see that far from restricting Christmas greetings to troops overseas, this year President Obama’s administration suggests Americans send a USO E-Card to members of the military and one of the message options you can select is "We are grateful for all you do. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!"  Go look for yourself. Hell, send a Christmas card on President Obama’s dime to a service person while you’re at it.

That story is fake news.

It originated on a fake new site and was specifically tailored to appeal to conservatives, designed specifically to provoke patriotic outrage in those prone to such, in order to further fuel their hate and distrust of the president (Don’t think so? Click on the link, read the article, then read the comments), which in turn generates page views and advertising revenue for the fakers. 

And it works.

It works because social media makes it easy to spread disinformation, especially among those who want to believe.

 

This is true on both sides of the political spectrum, so don’t go getting too smug.

 

It takes practice.

It takes training.

It takes conscious effort, to overcome your own biases.

But the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.

Step 1, You start by acknowledging what you want to believe.

Yeah, Jim, we got that. But what then? What’s Step 2?

Well, every story is different.

They’re all true and false to varying degrees. The world changes on a moment by moment basis, each of us comes at it from our own viewpoint.  Even the facts, as noted above, are no sure guarantee of reality – or we wouldn’t still be arguing over Benghazi (or 9-11, The Kennedy Assassination, TWA flight 800, Pearl Harbor, the Moon Landings, etc).

So there are no hard and fast rules for spotting fake news, no hard and fast Step 2. 

However, NPR provides a pretty good list of things to consider at this point:

Is the story so outrageous you can't believe it?

Is the story so outrageous you do believe it?

Does the headline match the article?

Does the article match the news story it's lifted from?

Are quotes in context?

Is the story set in the future?

Does the story attack a generic enemy?

Are you asked to rely on one killer factoid?

Who is the news source, anyway?

Does the news source appear to employ a professional editorial staff?

You should read the entire article for a more detailed examination of each of those items, but NPR’s advice can be summed up as “apply basic critical thinking.” Do I want to believe this? Do I not want to believe it? What are the sources? Is the author engaged in logical fallacies? Can I double check the basic assumptions myself (as in the above example: any new Executive Orders? Legislation? Etc). Who else has checked into this? Snopes, Factcheck, Politifact, etc, and what are their sources and conclusions.

It matters.

It matters because the world has changed.

Once upon a time fake news, fringe conspiracies, deliberately false reports, those things spread relatively slowly. They were confined by the state of the art, by society itself. Like a virus, even the most virulent, the spread is restricted by the vector of transmission and the vulnerability (or not) of the prospective host.

And now? Well, at the risk of pushing this analogy too far, the contagion has gone airborne.

With the advent of the 24/7 news cycle and the desperate competition between channels for viewers – any viewers, with social media now instantaneously connecting literally billions at any one moment, false information can become, well, viral.  It begins as a misunderstanding of the facts, or a deliberate lie, or just the human tendency to see what we want to see.  And so if it’s outrageous or titillating or unusual or just confirms what we want to believe, it begins to spread through social media. A celebrity, a politician, some notable, mentions it. Suddenly it’s a trending topic on Facebook and Twitter and it becomes self-sustaining – and that’s when it becomes real news. Even if it’s fake.

And it matters.

It matters because fake news now has the power to shape the course of human events.

On Christmas Eve this happened:

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Khawaja M. Asif is the Pakistani Minister of Water And Power And Defense and a member of the National Assembly. He was responding to a statement made by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who was quoted as threatening to destroy Pakistan with nuclear weapons if it sent troops into Syria.

The problem is that Yaalon never made any such threat.

Also, it should be noted that Yaalon is in fact a former Defense Secretary and no longer a part of Israel’s government.

The quote was taken from a fake news story.

At the same time, our own President-elect and Russia’s Vladimir Putin were engaged in their own social media nuclear saber-rattling.

And so it matters because fake news and social media can now directly influence world events.

In my previous profession, we called it information warfare – and it’s the most powerful weapon ever invented. It can target a single individual or the entire world, it can destroy a single politician, or poison the minds of entire populations.  And it matters because this trend is increasing, both by the natural evolution of technology and through malice aforethought. Fake news is lucrative, if you’re good at it you can make a lot of money. Fake news can topple nations, alter elections, influence legislation, and change history – and even broke, isolated, Third World countries can use it to directly influence nations such as ours, and they can do so for pennies. You don’t need nuclear weapons when you can convince England to leave the European Union without firing a shot. Hypothetically speaking.

For that reason, It’s not going to stop, it’s going to increase.

As such, we’d all best learn how to deal with it sooner rather than later.

Russia didn’t have to hack into our election machines to change the course of history.

Despite what you see from Hollywood, that’s not nearly as easy as it sounds. And the blowback if you’re discovered would likely lead to the exact opposite of your intentions.

There’s an easier way, one that even if attributed to you, can be dismissed, laughed off. And to prove it, really prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt, your target would have to give up secret methods and capabilities and why is this starting to sound so very, very familiar?

In the end, what saved the Vikings of The 13th Warrior wasn’t their courage or their strength or their swords – or at least not just those things. It was reason, and logic, and the willingness to question their very reality, to look beyond what they wanted to believe and to see the monsters for what they really were.

Russia, China, the various political strategists, the pundits, those who are enemies of democracy, they didn’t have to hack our technology.

They only had to tell us what we wanted to hear.

 

Ahmed: You! You could have killed him at will.
Herger: Yes?
Ahmed: Then why the deception?!
Herger: Deception is the point! Any fool can calculate strength. That one has been doing it since we arrived. Now he has to calculate what he can't see.
Ahmed: <realization dawning> And fear … of what he doesn't know.
-- The 13th Warrior

103 comments:

  1. Thank you, Jim. Right on target, as usual.

    The whole fake news brouhaha is important because it has made suckers out of ordinarily reasonable and intelligent people. Their biases make them accept garbage that ordinarily they'd reject. Professional propagandists have fed them enough truth that they're primed for the distortions and lies that the propagandists want them to believe. Conservatives are not the only ones guilty by any means, but they seem to be by far in the lead. Seem to. My bias, borne out by the information sources I choose to believe and refer to.

    But you hit the most essential point near the end. This is not simple propagandizing. It's WARFARE, conducted worldwide, but particularly within the US. It's a battle fought every day, everywhere, and the battle lines are never as clear as some like to pretend. No tanks, few gunshots and incendiaries, but it has twisted and perverted the American political process beyond recognition. Reasonable and intelligent people have come to prefer unreason, slander, and outright lies. I fear for my nation and my family.

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  2. Great essay, loved the 13 Warrior references. As far as the truth being presented, it's a strange time we live in. People around the world need to wake from this stupor they have been trapped in, because the racist-bigot nazi loving crap isn't just happening in this country. Trump is a symptom, a tumor, but other tumors are forming in democracies around the world.

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  3. It's so effective because it plays off our desires, what we want to be true or wish to happen.

    How right.

    And this doesn't just describe the rise of fake news, it also describes the way the Presidential elections went.

    http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/12/26/14074832/vote-loki-2016-trump

    This article on vox shows just how that was the case using a Marvel comic of all things and drawing references to what really happened.

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  4. The truth is out there, buried deeper and deeper under piles of bullS**t. One would think with all that fertilizer on top, the truth would grow and overtake that which has buried it. But no, we know have to dig through the crap to find the seed of truth. Thanks for the article.

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  5. "keen intelligent" should be "keen intelligence"?

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    1. Also, "To some extend, we each shape our view of this world by choosing what information we are exposed to, a process commonly referred to as confirmation bias – though there is much more to it than just that."

      Should read "To some extent"?

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    2. I think you guys are starting to enjoy finding the errors too much :)

      It's fixed. Thanks // Jim

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    3. It's like an Easter Egg hunt.... :-)

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    4. Thank you for all your work on the whole "fake news" phenomenon. No worthwhile discussion can occur without a basic agreement on basic facts.

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  6. Fix -- Kennedy "assassination." Excellent essay, once again. Some of us in Boston learned our lesson from the Chuck Stuart fiasco -- don't believe the story the first time just because it fits with your view of the world. That guy bamboozled a whole city because so many of us were willing to believe the "random black guy did it." We wanted that to be true. After all, you can protect your family from that, right? Baseball bat under the front seat, pepper spray, stay out of the city at night, maybe head over to Four Seasons and gun up. Turns out the reality was so much worse. And, if some sociopath who is merely trying to stay out of jail was able to snooker a million people, I shudder to think what someone whose goals are more far reaching can do with a coordinated propaganda campaign.

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    Replies
    1. Fixed, but if you think about it the way I had it -- assignation -- works too.

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    2. I think we've overplayed the Russian hacking of emails. I believe the real damage was caused by the "coordinated propaganda campaign" we just saw Russia let loose on social media. The steady drumbeat of thousands of false stories, comments, reports about Hillary Clinton and other candidates starting creating its own truth just by repetition.

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    3. As a ICT guy, if I read the reports about the "cyber hacking" correctly, it was just another form of social engineering that let people give up there control, or passwords.

      Far more important in this operation - because it worked both in Europe and the US - is co-opting "white supremacy" in getting people voting against their economic interests - cf. BREXIT.

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  7. Morpheus: What is real? How do you define "real"?
    — The Matrix

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  8. I have confidence that the scientific method applied to information or statistics or any input, visual and textual can be filtered against a general understanding of the world. It gets tougher the more the input grows so fast and conflicting. And many brains, I guess too many, just can't handle the overload. A personal gyrocompass is formed early on and pointed right by educators. Education that holds nothing too sacred to be unchallenged. Keep reading the classics and history for guides. We all walk through a personal valley. Some with darker glasses than others. Or highly colored ones. I wipe down my glasses as often as I can. A probing essay. If one self examines, one is half way to enlightenment. Know thyself and so om.

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  9. I think there are numerous crimes of opportunity which are ascribed a different motive to perpetuate one's political beliefs. I think the shooting in San Bernadino is perhaps a great example. They are the same sort of terrorists McVeigh and his party were. Yet McVeigh will usually get painted more as a lone nut-case while the San Bernadino shooters are used to indict the entire religion.

    I was taught about yellow journalism during the late 1800's by Hearts and company. What no one talks about is the fact that it never really went away and has broadened its reach with the rise of the internet.

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  10. Well said, well said indeed. In 25 years of online politics, I've been caught a few times and had to eat crow(doesn't taste like chicken, tastes like shit). But for the most part I've been lucky because of the general rules from my mother from a very young age..........believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see. Keep up the good work, Jim!!

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    1. Have to laugh: that's exactly what my father told me along with the sight of the Milky Way. Three big truths at once: my five y.o. mind blown!

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  11. Exaggerations, misinformation, and outright lies have become way too accepted. When it is elected officials, in regard to public policies and government actions; it fails to serve the interest of the people. Media should be a source of reliable information, and liars should not hold public office. Fake news only serves to create chaos. They could be reporting on the unconstitutionality of Trump in the office of the President elect. They should be spreading the word on what the Constitution says about not having authority to act on behalf of the USA without holding a sworn office. We should be hearing more information on the Russian interference with our electoral process. We have the right to know truths. While I'm not in favor of censorship; the consequences of what is written or said reflect the acceptance or rejection of it.

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  12. Another wonderful essay. So sad that we now live in a world where we expect the worst, therefore we are accustomed to believing the worst we hear, true or not. Sadder still that most people won't bother to do even the simplest of fact checking, not even the world leaders.

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  13. I know of at least two people who'll run with that Christmas card ban b.s.

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  14. Thanks for keeping me on my toes. I've always been a skeptic of news but I now see things I need to bone up on.

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  15. Both great pieces and will hopefully lead us reading them here to evolve with regard to our judgment of things on a daily basis. Unfortunately, most of our fellow travelers will never get this thoughtful insight. Thanks so much for all your excellent writing. This is my first comment here, but not the first time I've read your great words!

    FIXES -

    "...(through the morning toilet..." - probably should say 'though...'

    "each of us come at it from our own viewpoint" - probably should say "...comes..."

    "those thing spread relatively slowly" - probably should say "... things..."

    "and they can do for pennies" - probably should say "and they can do it for pennies"

    I love that you allow us to help with the difficult job of editing. I've found that it's usually much easier to see these things from a bit of a distance.

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  16. Very insightful essay. Thank you very much. I recently read a book that addresses why we humans can't seem to see reason and act rationally on a regular basis. It is "The Righteous Mind" by Jonathan Haidt. It explains what his research shows as the reason that people of very strongly held beliefs can be so divided over politics.

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    1. A person with strongly held beliefs (not religious) cannot be swayed even if facts prove them utterly wrong. The only way they can be swayed is if the facts affect them in an up close and personal way. Otherwise they will hold on to that belief until they die.

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  17. I like the NPR list of things to consider. I guess I am already doing this to a certain extent. A weird website, lots of advertising will immediately tell me it's risky at best.

    What worries me about "fake news" is the inclination of a lot of people to discredit all news sources now. There's a lot of good journalists working for (used to be) respected news organizations. I still would have them instead of a guy wearing a tin hat living in his mom's basement. If the MSM goes away all we will have absolutely no accountability and outside verification of facts.

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    1. Don't forget Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection Kit from The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Here's a link, (https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/03/baloney-detection-kit-carl-sagan/), but read the book if you haven't already.

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    2. Ha! just found out how to respond to reply accidentally! Thanks

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  18. Excellent and disturbing discussion, as always. Interestingly, earlier today a friend of mine on FB posted an article, which if I interpret it correctly, is about some scientists proving that Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is indeed a real thing, and has effects that we still don't really understand, except that what we perceive as reality is what we expect to perceive. Or in other words our expectations determine the outcome of the event we are observing. I know there are also Buddhist teachings which state it much more elegantly, but I'm not going to dig them up and get all philosophical right now.
    When I went back to find it I discovered that the article is from last year, and I'm not entirely sure about the source, but the synchronicity of reading that, and then this, on the same day is still quite remarkable, at least for me. As a nerdy type I have always found Heisenberg's theory fascinating in it's possibilities, but you put a new, and much more disturbing, spin on its social impacts.
    Incidentally my FB friend's uncle was involved in translating Heisenberg's findings into English.
    here is the article... https://www.inverse.com/article/3568-reality-does-not-exist-physics

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    1. ok, found a less "OMG!"-like article about the experiment... https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150527103110.htm

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  19. As usual, in the case of the "Christmas Card" ban... a little common sense goes a long way.

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    1. Unfortunately, common sense ain't so "common".

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    2. I hear you brother. Which I believe is why those of us blessed (or cursed) to be endowed with this vanishing trait must employ it on the regular to navigate the daily barrage of b.s. flung by the right (predominantly) AND the left (to a lesser degree). For myself, it's really the only thing besides a stiff drink that helps to maintain my sanity.

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  20. "Herger: Deception is the point! Any fool can calculate strength. That one has been doing it since we arrived. Now he has to calculate what he can't see.
    Ahmed: And fear … of what he doesn't know."
    I wonder if Michael Chrichton has read Sun Tzu?
    The above quote sounds like it's right out of The Art of War.

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  21. The story of Clinton being a pedophile is still making the rounds.

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  22. Excellent piece, Jim.

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  23. Fake or false news has been extant since the day the first newspaper was published. See W.R. Hearst and the Spanish-American War.

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  24. I've gotten to where I immediately discount anything that has a 'breaking news' lead,especially on Facebook. The articles are sometimes about news that happened months ago. Even on TV, the whole 'breaking news' thing just sets my teeth to grinding.

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    1. "Breaking news" should be of an instant. If something breaks, it's usually a momentary process, like dropping a glass on the floor. It doesn't take 24 or 48 hours to break a leg, say.
      I worked as a graphic designer for a national newspaper for 22 years. Nothing irritated me more than being told to put a "breaking news" strapline across the top of page one's masthead. Far as I was concerned, the news had already broken.

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  25. Thank you for being a lighthouse, Jim.

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  26. Possibly your best ever. Thanks Jim!

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  27. This is why I appreciate what you write Jim!

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  28. Nice work, Mr. Wright.

    My own discovery of how information can shape perspective and also reinforce perspective came from a book titled 'Snapping', authored by communications specialists Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman. They coined the term 'information disease' to describe the process used by cults to lock a person's mind into rigid belief system. This 'disease' can get so bad that people literally cannot see the world clearly. One victim said that when he left the temple that had been his home the outside world looked overcast and frightening no matter how bright the day was.

    'Information disease' is a concept that has stuck with me since I read this book. Now, thanks to the internet, 'information disease' can be inflicted on millions.

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    1. Haven't thought about that book in so long. I wrote a book about the Campus Crusade for Christ back in the late 70's as a cult group and used their book as part of my research. Lot of that fundamentalist thinking encouraged people to think their opinions were as good as anybody's facts.

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  29. In his 1995 book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Carl Sagan has a chapter called, “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection.” In it he lists some tools to use to avoid being taken in by fakery. If you haven't read it, or even if you have, read the book. Sagan's enlightening prose is a joy.

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  30. For me, this sentence speaks volumes:

    "It’s a human trait, not a political one".

    well said.

    thank you for writing it Jim.

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  31. I really wish I had something even close to this when I was teaching. Clarity of vision and willingness to look beyond one's biases are admirable but had taught skills.

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    1. 25 children times 6 hours times 5 days times 48 weeks is 36,000 child-hours per year. If we postulate paying you, a teaching professional, what we pay child sitters, you are grossly underpaid and undervalued for raising the seed corn in a safe and protected environment. Around here untrained child sitters demand $20/hour. I suggest we up your pay to 36000 times that rate per year with full benefits of course. Yes, a beloved math teacher taught me how to do this with a Big Chief tablet and a Nr.2 lead pencil, using only chalk, a blackboard and a beguiling manner. Forge on! You hold the country's future in your hands.

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  32. Spot on as always Jim Wright and thankyou.

    Carl Sagan's maxim / law that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" is a very good thing to consider here - although, of course extraordinary is a subjective term in itself.

    I'd highly recommend reading his "The Demon Haunted World - Science as a candle against the Dark" and Isaac Asimov's "The Relativity of Wrong" among other works and essays of both.

    I also wish we could teach everyone - not just children but everyone -who to think and analyse arguments and rhetoric better, learn critical thinking and combine it with some compassion and empathy for others as well as just cold hard logic. To get people to think and be kind. Because the world is already, I find, too full of the opposites of each of these traits and made worse by them for everyone. Okay, nearly everyone.

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    1. who = how and I officially suck at typing. Sorry.

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  33. In thinking about putting this into practice, I'm running into an issue-I don't feel like I *want* stories about awful things to be true. But I tend to find them...believable. I don't want people to be harassing Hijabi on public transportation, for ex. (Or anywhere, for that matter!) But I entirely believe it's happening. I've seen more minor versions of it personally, assholes saying shitty things to women in head scarves. So when I read that some asshole put hands on a Hijabi, I believe it. It fits with what I know of people.

    And I can't figure out how to filter for that.

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  34. Once again, Mr. Wright, you are a sane voice amid the cacophony of crazies! Thank you!

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  35. And today police have in custody a black man, a member of the congregation, who ***ALLEGEDLY*** vandalized his own church in order to make us, all of us, believe Trump supporters are racist villains.

    I appreciate what you're doing, and how well you're doing it, but when you've done supporting the reality-based community* could you turn your attention to the difference between allegations and guilt. :-)

    *In case you don't get the reference:

    'Reality-based community is an informal term in the United States, used to refer to people who base their opinions more on observation than on ideology or doctrine—that the people rely on their observation of reality instead of seeking to shape reality in the image of their plans. The term has been defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from judicious study of discernible reality." It can be seen as an example of political framing.

    The source of the term is a quotation in an October 17, 2004, The New York Times Magazine article by writer Ron Suskind, "Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush," quoting an unnamed aide to George W. Bush (later attributed to Karl Rove):

    The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."' Wikipedia

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    1. who ***ALLEGEDLY*** vandalized

      Just stop. Don't tell me how to write. If you look at that sentence in CONTEXT, you'll see that it's readily apparent that the allegedly is implied. I wrote it that way on purpose.

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    2. Fair point. If a little oversensitive :-)

      My bad. The distinction between allegation, prosecution, and conviction is a bugbear of mine and I didn't read anywhere near closely enough.

      Can't recall the details of my other post, but amazed it's been censored as I can't think it would have been remotely controversial. Clearly you're very busy but if you do have time I'd appreciate feedback/dialogue.

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    3. "Can't recall the details of my other post, but amazed it's been censored as I can't think it would have been remotely controversial"

      I have no idea what you're talking about. No comment has been censored. And if you can't recall the details, I certainly can't give you any feedback.

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    4. Ah, Nevermind. I see it. Yes, that was removed because it was a comment regarding my bio and had absolutely nothing to do with this post.

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  36. There has been an industry working full time to twist news to fit right wing views since the '50s. Buckley and Bozell got it started, and Reed Irvine accelerated it when he founded the Orwellianly named Accuracy In Media during the Nixon years. Of course, the ratfucking of Segretti and his acolyte Rove are is well documented. Alex Jones is a direct descendant of these organizations. He just doesn't make any pretense to actual reality. He just creates an alternate reality, thus the alt-right. I don't believe the left has an equivalent.

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  37. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  38. Countering "fake news" is relatively painless - yet.

    However, once deterioration of the US democracy advances to the point it resembles the Nazi occupation of Europe, things get "interesting".

    If you want to counter *propaganda* in those circumstances, you'll get into this territory: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trouw.

    My grandfather participated in this organization by leading a distribution effort in Amsterdam-Zuid. He survived - many didn't.

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  39. I've always prided myself on having a reasonably well-working internal bullshit detector. You've made me consider some things that I hadn't thought of-thank you for helping me to fine tune myself.

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  40. I tend to think that a majority of the people who tell you they believe this stuff are knowingly lying (the euphemism would be "trolling", which apparently makes it acceptable). Trump is an honest politician, in that he doesn't pretend to tell the truth; and his supporters follow his lead, knowing that they're in on the joke.

    Fake news is an anchor on which to build a false narrative. Time spend focusing on the fake facts is time not spent on the broader story, that is spun around them. Throw in an occasional true fact and you can always deflect a fact-check when necessary ("OK, so maybe X is questionable; but everyone agree's Y, so the key point remains ...")

    Fake news is essentially a denial of service attack on our information infrastructure. Deliberately, knowingly, gleefully, helped along people willing to lie for a cause they believe in.

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  41. How do you know what is real and what is just another imagined spirt in the mist? - That should be "spirit"? (near the beginning of the essay)

    I have a sister who is totally engulfed in fake news as long as it attacks the Clintons. She is doubling down on Pizzagate. There is no discussion worth having with her.

    As for science, a good example I use to show bias is the research done on baboons that I heard about as a student in elementary school many years ago. The troop of baboons would have male guards around the perimeter and the females would care for young in the center. The group would up and leave to new territory - the males in charge, the females subservient. Well, a few years later some women biologists went out to study the baboons. See it had been male biologists doing the studies. And the women watched, and saw that there was troop leader - female - who decided when they up and left, where they went and stayed, and when the males were to go out and guard. It turned out to be a matriarchy the male biologists had entirely missed. They didn't watch the females closely, they were looking at the males presuming they were the leaders, and missed the one in charge. Trying to see the whole picture, without assumptions, is hard to do. But if you don't you might miss something important. So I tell my kids, anyway.

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    1. Excellent example of research bias! Wonder how much more exists.

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    2. How about the medical world studying heart attacks in men only, then deciding that women didn't have heart attacks. Only after many years of women dropping dead from (ta dah) heart attacks that presented differently did doctors condescendingly concede that maybe women weren't just being hypochondriacs.

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  42. Assumptions.

    Learning to detect when I am assuming facts not actually in evidence is a skill I've tried to hone. I tend to drive people nuts sometimes. They think I'm just being picky but I know the influence of the smallest assumption can be the metaphoric flapping of a butterfly wing that causes a hurricane half a world away.

    The questions are: a) how much time is necessary to get to the truth and b) is the subject important enough?

    I do research to find sources that I can trust, sources that follow proper journalistic principles, and then I still take in each article with a critical mind's eye.

    Biases.

    Here is something I wrote back on Dec. 13th on my facebook feed along side a shared photo-posting by Vanessa Otero (link at the end):

    "One's own biases, bias one's view of news sources.

    If one is on the far right and ingests a steady diet of reports from the far right column, every other source of news comes off as originating from organizations that are 'left' of your POV.

    If one is on the far left and ingests a steady diet of reports from the far left column, every other source of news comes off as originating from organizations that are 'right' of your POV.

    Hence the attacks on 'MSM' in the center as being 'biased'.

    Oddly though, I have never come across someone on the left end of the spectrum criticizing MSM as 'right-biased-news.' I do see the 'left-biased-news' criticism often from the right. Not sure why that is.

    I would place CBC News in the gray circle. Just my opinion.'

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10155015975956062

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  43. Great essay (both parts). From "Jesus Christ Superstar": "What is truth? Is truth unchanging laws? We both have truths. Are mine the same as yours?" ~~Pontius Pilate to Christ. Substitute the word "truth" with "reality" and it still makes sense.
    As a Buddhist, I do a certain amount of navel-gazing. I believe that reality/truth is very much based on our own view of the world. I also believe that what was true before may or may not still be true. Example: I was a wife. Then I wasn't a wife. And now I am a wife again.
    Reality is a fluid concept, different for every person. The amazing part of our human lives is that we are actually able to interact with others with some amount of common comprehension. I don't know if you ever say the movie "What the Bleep?" (or the "Down the Rabbit Hole" version) but it presents some pretty amazing science. The concept I particularly want to share with you is this: NOTHING exists until we determine what will be. Every choice we make, no matter how tiny or large, has an effect on our reality and changes it to be the results of that choice.
    What is real? Do you understand the nature of your own reality? I'd suggest these are not "yes-no" questions, but that the answer is more along the lines of "depends".
    Or as the meme goes, "Reality is a crutch for those who can't handle drugs." (attributed to either Lily Tomlin or Robin Williams).

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  44. ummm about checking a box - what does the squirrel mean? You are not my god nor did I cry, so does that mean I thought the article was like a squirrel - nuts? I dunno know...

    So about the article. Good read. And I wouldn't give Fox News the time of day let alone believe everything they spew on the tube. I see a lot of garbage on social media that I again pay little attention to. Actually I don't believe anyone until I've gotten all the information from various outlets. Then I wait. My skepticism along with a side of cynicism may hold back the impending news of an apocalypse until it's kinda late to take cover. My problem. Never shall I spread or repeat news that is unfounded. I believe in my own judgement and have been proved wrong before, therefore take the wait and see approach. Best if more people did that. However I do appreciate you taking the time to dissect every news item and sifting fact from fiction. Kudos to you Jim.

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  45. Thank you. This is the first time an article has helped me really understand how to spot fake news. Rather than a list of questions, you actually *explained* how fake news worked and why. It helped a lot. I appreciate it. ~ Lenora Hames Lundquist

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  46. Just want to say that I keep all my fake news stories in a YETI cooler.

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  47. Thank You for an excellent article.
    I agree we are all guilty to some degree.
    Sometime back I reposted something I wanted to be true. Later I researched it and found it to be bull. Good life's lesson.
    In my case it made me much more cautious.
    I see this on Facebook a lot. At the present time the conservatives seem to be outscoring the liberals. If it's anti-Obama it's out there. I tend to see many more attempts to discredit fact checker sites, especially Snopes, from the Ted Nuggent loving flag wavers I see.
    Keep up the good work as we enter a distopianew novel.

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  48. Ironically, (naturally enough), one of the most irrational thoughts that EVERYONE has is, "my reality is probably 95~% true-true".
    Everybody holds irrational thoughts quite comfortably; that gray area where gorillas meet Sasquatch, where gods live (and go to die!), where climate change is just a normal variant, certainly not an outlier!

    We used to use the government (and the political realm in general) to hash out what cobbled-together version of reality we were going to allow ourselves to be governed under.

    No more. With a do-nothing Congress, discourse about what reality IS, moved to social media.
    The Wall Street Journal has a site that gives one the "Red feed" and the "Blue feed"; we aren't even talking about the SAME things!
    The reason it is important to keep our institutions of government free from this divisiveness is because good, smart, people that came before us gave their lives to have a settled-reality to pass on: if we cannot agree on what our political institutions are FOR they cease to be functional parts of government and we're back rearguing what is REAL!

    The urge to blindly block anything that President Trump [spit] does is exactly wrong.
    Work with them as much as possible, block them when necessary and fight like hell when the Bloviator-in-Chief exceeds his authority; this is the only way to get the battle over "just what is real, really?" back into government, where it belongs!

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  49. I just wanted to drop a line and thank you for all your writing. Not just the epiphanies and harsh truths you've shown but all the great science fiction authors you've introduced me to over the year or two I've been reading you, Heinlen, Scalzi, Adam Troy Castro, etc. etc.
    I'm also waiting anxiously for your entrance into the world of fiction.

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  50. My favorite Terry Pratchett quote re truth: “A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on.”
    ― Terry Pratchett, The Truth

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    1. Actually said first by Mark Twain, slightly translated.

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  51. It's the confluence of magical thinking, confirmation bias, and Dunning-Kruger all wrapped up in a bow. Someone needs to invent Wonder Woman's golden lasso, but, y'know -- planet-wide. (Side note: What was that movie with Ricky Gervais where everyone told the literal truth, except Gervais's character, who was able to lie?)

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    1. "The Invention of Lying" (2009) IMDb is your friend.

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  52. I hope that fake news does follow the typical life cycle of a contagion. IIRC, once a contagion becomes virulent and gets into the population it spreads very quickly and does all sorts of damage, but after that, the host adapts. The individuals who survived and thrived during the first outbreak are more resistant to the second. Also, the disease itself mutates to become less lethal because, from the disease's point of view the object of the game is to infect, not kill. The longer the host lives with the disease, the more successful the disease is. After a time, the disease may even be integrated into the host, becoming harmless.

    It would be nice if fake news became harmless. Unfortunately I'm not sure it is subject to the correct evolutionary pressures.

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  53. Well, because for some reason, Blogger keeps overwriting the 'Add Comment' code with an ad, I have to try to get this in within a tenth of a second before the comment entry box disappears, so I hope this works.

    I have an example of just exactly how far people can bend to accept the most outrageous false information. I was in my operations seat doing my job, and the copilot manages to get a text message while at around 14k feet. The message is from one of his friends, saying that Obama has just released an executive order disbanding the Marine Corps. Now, since text messages are just about the only form of information we can receive in our little bush plane C208B, and only occasionally at that, the copilot has no way to check on this particularly unusual supposed occurrence. But rather than skepticism, what does he do? He takes it at face value. Why? Because he wanted to believe the worst. And he and the pilot proceed to talk back and forth about how this won't stand, and that it's treason, and all this that and the other. To the point that I eventually just have to get off the intercom before I say something highly unprofessional.

    Of course, later, we get on the ground, and they find out nothing of the sort happened, and rather than take it as a lesson like the one you just taught here, they just shrug it off.

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  54. Thanks again for the insights, Jim.
    Just to be REALLY anal, though, my first thought was to wonder if "shifting" the ashes was a typo for "sifting." What you wrote is certainly logical, but I guess I was looking for the cliche.
    Please forgive an old English prof for assuming the worst in every word choice!
    I love reading all your posts!

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  55. I have for some time collected notable and interesting quotes from all kinds of writers. The following seems to me to describe what is most wrong with our thinking, and hence, our government, media, and and society at large. And of course, the lack of critical thinking skills can be laid directly at the foot of our eductional system, that by and large, forbids free speech and the examination of opposing points of view. I think Sumner got it right with the following thought. Nice work, Jim!

    "The critical habit of thought, if usual in society, will pervade all its mores, because it is a way of taking up the problems of life. Men educated in it cannot be stampeded by stump orators ... They are slow to believe. They can hold things as possible or probable in all degrees, without certainty and without pain. They can wait for evidence and weigh evidence, uninfluenced by the emphasis or confidence with which assertions are made on one side or the other. They can resist appeals to their dearest prejudices and all kinds of cajolery. Education in the critical faculty is the only education of which it can be truly said that it makes good citizens." (William Graham Sumner, Folkways, 1906)

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  56. A minor transgression, Jim, I got carried away with the teacher salary post and neglected to include the direct reference to critical thinking. Apologies. I'll try to stay 'on target'. I follow a few folks, you and Thomas Friedman are two of the favorite inspirational authors.

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    1. Got your post with all the figures for a new teacher's salary schedule. As an old English teacher, I can appreciate where Jim is coming from. I tried to instill a bit of critical thinking and sensitivity to propaganda by directly teaching about it using a book called Making Sense by Robert Potter. It points out the very things that Jim refers to. I also did a piece on my website www.curmudgeonstwist.net It isn't as long or detailed as Jim's but you might like it. It's called "Be a Doubting Thomas 2016." Check it out if you can.

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  57. I have decided that whenever a big lie is tweeted by DT, I'll copy and send it to the 3 relatives I have that voted for him along with a simple, provable truth showing it to be false. Hopefully, they'll at least have to think about his lies instead of automatically accepting them as truth. We all have to do something to counter this atmosphere of fake news and that's my personal solution.

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  58. Much of what you say applies to religion. What are your thoughts on where religion is headed? I wonder just how dangerous that can get. It may already be the most dangerous aspect of it all.

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  59. "On a brighter note, Kahan told Quartz that his research on people that score well on a measure called “scientific curiosity” actually show less partisanship. These are people who may want to agree with their group, but they just can’t help themselves—they need to know the truth.
    In other words, it is curiosity, not smarts, that helps us come together."


    Apparently it happens to most of us, maybe even most of the time. I don't know how good this source is.

    Data shows that using science in an argument just makes people more partisan

    Kal

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  60. Excellent essay as usual. Thanks for continuing to talk about this huge problem we have. It did not happen overnight.
    I have observed this over a period of many years. It really started to escalate with the founding of Fox News and the simultaneous explosion of right wing talk radio. Around 1995, I started to notice the talk radio shows and Fox News arrived in October of 1996. It took 20 years, but they have brainwashed a lot of people during this time. I say they, because it was definitely organized.
    I observed it happening in my own immediate family over the years. What makes some people so susceptible to propaganda and others reject it? It happens on both sides, but the Republican party has perfected the art.

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  61. We have reached a point where a drunken tweet can morph into an article of faith. How can we regain control of our education system so we can fix this?

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  62. "Are you asked to rely on one killer factoid?"

    I've seen this presented as stunning proof innumerable times. "It is true because of this little thing in the corner over here..." As if the bulk of evidence that they stepped around doesn't contravene the error they find significant.

    Or as I reply to 911 truthers these days "invisible bomb carrying Ninja's did it." The don't find that funny for some reason.

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  63. Read the appendix to "Eaters Of The Dead." There were a lot of academics who wanted the Ahmed Ibn Fadlan text to exist, and became quite wroth when they learned it was just a McGuffin pulled on the readers themselves.

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  64. Excellent piece ...Thanks Jim

    @NoDistortions

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  65. Happy New Year to you and your family Jim

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  66. Happy New Year to you and your family Jim

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  67. Happy New Year to you and your family Jim

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  68. I love your writing, although I admit that I follow you more on Facebook than directly on your blog. Call it laziness of opportunity, since I am already on FB most of the time. So, with all the folks you are airlocking, I'm trying to figure out if I am ever going to see posting authorization on your FB page :) My guess is that the waitlist is pretty long...just curious.

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  69. Wonderful post. And yes, conformation bias is everywhere. But witnessing it from the left is considerably more disturbing.

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