Dec 16 2016

Facebook Takes On Fake News

facebook1Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced that his platform is now going to have third parties review news stories and news sources and label what they think is “fake news.” Facebook will then demote those stories in their news feed.

They have tapped Snopes, Factcheck.org, ABC News, and PolitiFact to be their third-party reviewers.

While this move has been controversial, I think it’s a fantastic idea, although of course not without its risk.

In the last decade we have been moving away from traditional edited sources of news to social media, which blends news and opinion and has essentially removed any editorial barriers. This has been a boon to content producers, with many upsides. The barrier to sharing your information or opinions with the world has essentially been removed. This has led to many great things, like scientists sharing their field of expertise with the public.

There is also somewhat of a meritocracy, with quality writers rising in popularity. People have access to much more information and many more viewpoints.

However, the barrier has also been removed for spreading misinformation. Content creators and websites have sprung up catering to every extreme ideology. This is nothing new but in the past marginalized ideas had marginalized distributions. This too was a double-edged sword – it kept out a lot of nonsense, but also made it difficult (but not impossible) for minority but legitimate opinions to be heard. Without barriers, every voice can potentially be heard, but it became more difficult to distinguish real news from fake news, mainstream from fringe opinions, facts from misinformation, and quality journalism from ideological hack jobs.

You don’t need the infrastructure, distribution, and reputation of a newspaper or magazine. You just need a website, which can be had on the cheap. Once advertising revenue became easy to obtain from online clicks, that created a motivation to create fake news sites, where the content is optimized for sensationalism (click-bait) and not for quality. This means the stories can go beyond misleading to being outright fake. Some sites hide behind calling themselves “satire” while others don’t bother. Sites also spoof legitimate sites to siphon off their traffic.

To make matters worse, aggregators, like Facebook, feed news items to its users based entirely on popularity. While this may seem egalitarian, that is a value judgement that Facebook and other are making. It was not an unreasonable default decision, but now we have seen how that has played out.

Popularity alone is a fine metric for entertainment, but may not be optimal for news. People in a democracy need accurate information. If they are getting most of their news from aggregators that promote popular but low quality or even fake information over quality journalism, then democracy suffers. Further, people tend to read headlines and the brief description of most news items, and more often than not do not click through to the full article. If they read the article they may be reading it in their feed and may not even be aware of its source.

This means that for many people the news stream has become not only democratized but undiscriminating. It’s all the same – fake, real, quality, biased, fact, and opinion.

Of course one solution to this, one in which I strongly believe, is education. Every citizen needs to become their own editor, to consume news skeptically and critically. That would be the perfect solution, but that is also not going to happen anytime soon in large enough numbers that fake news ceases to be a problem.

Zuckerberg, I think, captured Facebook’s situation accurately:

“While we don’t write the news stories you read and share, we also recognize we’re more than just a distributor of news. We’re a new kind of platform for public discourse — and that means we have a new kind of responsibility to enable people to have the most meaningful conversations, and to build a space where people can be informed.”

Facebook does not want to become editors, that is why they are using third party reviewers. They are simply recognizing that quality should also play a role in their algorithm alongside popularity.

Of course, assessing quality opens up the process to bias. No one can reasonably deny that. That is why:

“We’ve focused our efforts on the worst of the worst, on the clear hoaxes spread by spammers for their own gain, and on engaging both our community and third party organizations,” Facebook News Feed chief Adam Mosseri said in a company blog post on Thursday.

This is a good partial solution. The more nuanced the judgment about quality the greater the “bias to objectivity” ratio is likely to be. For obvious scams, fake news, and spoofed sites the bias ratio is likely to be very small. Every reasonable person can agree that the Pope did not endorse Trump in the election. That was clearly fake news, and can be demoted as fake without much risk of bias.

Another solution is to use multiple third party reviewers who have a reputation for unbiased quality. Snopes is a great example.

Perhaps we can look at this situation as a trade-off between quality and bias. You can eliminate bias by having no editorial barriers, but we have seen what happens when you do that. Fake news, hoaxes, sensationalism, and, ironically, biased misinformation thrives. Heavily edited sources, like all mainstream news outlets, have standards of quality, but also have a clear editorial bias.

I think Facebook’s experiment, and it is an experiment, is a good attempt at a compromise. Clearly there is room for a minimal filter to demote the absolute trash and this can be done with a minimum of bias. Let’s see how that works.

As an aside I am careful to use the term “demote” to emphasize that Facebook is not censoring anyone or blocking or removing any information from the internet. They are simply choosing how their algorithm promotes some articles over others on their own platform.

Apparently some on the far right are not happy about this.

“Fact-checkers all seem to be from the left,” Evan Siegfried, a Republican strategist, wrote on Twitter. “Not good for conservatives.”

Other conservatives quickly agreed, hammering Facebook for the move.

“This is a disaster for news coverage,” wrote Ben Shapiro, a prominent conservative and editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire. “It’s an attempt to restore gatekeepers who have a bias as the ultimate arbiters of truth.”

RBPundit, an influential anonymous conservative blogger, published a series of tweets expressing strong concern.

“It’s going to be leftists reporting stories they don’t like and leftists ‘fact-checking’ these stories,” RBPundit wrote. “It’s a fraud.”

I am reminded of Colbert’s famous line, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.” Some on the far right just support that notion by saying that fact-checking is “not good for conservatives.”

Of course, there is bias and misinformation across the political spectrum. Conservatives may also have a point when they argue that many mainstream media outlets have a liberal bias. However, they have chosen to interpret “liberal bias” as anything that disagrees with their ideology. They are often not substituting liberal misinformation with fact-checking and quality journalism. They are simply putting forward their own outlets that are unhinged from reality, that create a conservative bubble of misinformation. (If you disagree with this, take a look at the Conservapedia. Seriously.)

Yes, there are liberal bubbles of misinformation also. Conservatives, perhaps, have just been more prolific or even successful at creating their own bubbles, or perhaps they felt more of a need. In any case, it seems this has created a feedback loop. Conservatives consuming highly biased conservative news and opinion feel even more that mainstream news outlets have a liberal bias, so they cling all the harder to their conservative outlets. They think mainstream media is “fake news” because it buys into the “global warming hoax” and did not report that Hillary Clinton was deathly ill during the campaign.

People tend to calibrate judgments about things like quality and value based upon themselves. Most people I talk to think their political views are smack dab in the center of reality (if not in the center of opinion). People on the far left do not see themselves as extremists. Their views are the most reasonable, and anyone to their right is too conservative. Similarly, if you consume Fox News anything with less of a conservative bias is clear liberal trash.

Un-edited social media pours gasoline on these feedback loops. It deprives our society of even having a common ground of established facts to use as a starting point for discussion. The result is, well, look around you.

I therefore applaud Facebook and Zuckerberg for recognizing the situation, Facebook’s role in the current information dynamic, and in being willing to experiment with measures to mitigate the absolute worse aspects of unfiltered massive social media platforms. Let’s see how it works.

98 responses so far

98 Responses to “Facebook Takes On Fake News”

  1. TheGorillaon 16 Dec 2016 at 11:09 am

    I think we should be a little concerned that the medium through which many people get their news is going to play curator with the content itself (sorry, via third parties) — especially considering that the whole reason this turned into a big issue is *an election result.*

    Trump has been great for the status quo: such an extreme bigoted moron lets the current, oppressive -as-fuvk, “Democratic” state of affairs play itself up as an ideal.

  2. Steven Novellaon 16 Dec 2016 at 11:13 am

    If your only window into the news is Facebook, well, that is the real underlying problem, isn’t it.
    For those people who can’t be bothered to click through to the original source, or curate their own news, I don’t see a problem with not promoting fake news, hoaxes, and click-bait as if they were real news.

    That is all we are talking about here – Facebook not promoting blatantly horrible shit as if it were real news. That is far less concerning than people reading fake shit on Facebook and thinking its actual news.

  3. hardnoseon 16 Dec 2016 at 12:33 pm

    I am so glad Facebook (and Wikipedia) has volunteered to do our thinking for us. I don’t want to wear out my brain.

    Just think — if this trend continues, we will all be indoctrinated with the mainstream “truth,” and there will be no more controversies!

  4. BillyJoe7on 16 Dec 2016 at 1:23 pm

    ^spot the two logical fallacies in these two sentences (D

  5. BillyJoe7on 16 Dec 2016 at 1:24 pm

    smily fail : D

  6. BillyJoe7on 16 Dec 2016 at 1:24 pm

    😀

  7. mumadaddon 16 Dec 2016 at 1:40 pm

    1. Strawman
    2. Strawman

    😀

  8. banyanon 16 Dec 2016 at 1:49 pm

    I hope this will help. I’m frankly pretty depressed about the state of people’s attitudes toward truth these days.

    I read a Vox article about Trump’s tweets saying people should get over the Russian hacking thing because Trump won “one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history.” In noting that the claim about the large electoral college margin was false, Vox began its sentence, “For what it’s worth…” I assume because they know as well as we do that it just doesn’t seem to matter anymore.

  9. MosBenon 16 Dec 2016 at 2:02 pm

    In a perfect world we would need any amount of curation because people would recognize obviously fake new and would follow up with some research on things that were fishy. But then, in a perfect world we wouldn’t have people spreading fake news to begin with.

    So for the imperfect world that we have, some level of intervention to drain the swamp, to borrow a phrase, is perfectly reasonable.

  10. TheGorillaon 16 Dec 2016 at 3:19 pm

    Dr novella, I’m not worried that it’s a bad thing for people to have what little they read be semi accurate, but there’s a demarcation problem. It seems very unlikely to stop at blatantly false stories — how are the massively misinformed stories that use empirically accurate numbers handled? If this is intended to do anything more than sort out Hillary is a reptile theories , this is a real issue – and if the goal is a more informed population, wouldn’t it have to? We already have situations where people complaining about the decline in quality of life are “debunked” by everyone having iPhones; I doubt that there will be such egregious situations, but that sort of ideological based discretion will be in play. I feel like there’s a very strong negative relationship between objective debunking and the meaningfulness of the debunking.

    Either way, this is a shifting attitude – we used to be very upset about companies handpicking our news, but now it’s being normalized as a public service. And this was always an issue with the power social media companies have, but large corporations have never had qualms about capitulating to government demands — if they benefit. The NSA got nice cooperation, and look how instantly our (I’m from silicon valley) tech leaders started suvking up to Trump. No moral foundation at all!

  11. BillyJoe7on 16 Dec 2016 at 3:21 pm

    mumadadd.

    “1. Strawman
    2. Strawman”

    I thought you were wrong there for a moment, but I failed to see that there are three sentences:

    “I am so glad Facebook (and Wikipedia) has volunteered to do our thinking for us.”
    1. Strawman

    “I don’t want to wear out my brain”
    2. Strawman

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nauLgZISozs 😀

    “Just think — if this trend continues, we will all be indoctrinated with the mainstream “truth,” and there will be no more controversies!”
    3. Slippery Slope.

  12. BillyJoe7on 16 Dec 2016 at 3:28 pm

    Gorilla: “It seems very unlikely to stop at blatantly false stories”

    We shouldn’t put blatantly guilty criminals in prison because it’s unlikely to stop untill everyone is in prison.

  13. Circlemakeron 16 Dec 2016 at 4:05 pm

    Even though I think this is a worthwhile experiment, I am concerned that efforts like this could result in people being less skeptical of news that has not been flagged as questionable. People are lazy, and if they think that their news is being filtered for accuracy, they may be less likely to do any critical analysis themselves, especially regarding sources that are deemed “credible.”

    Blatantly fake news is a more easily solved problem than misleading, hyperbolic, biased, and just plain bad journalism. And frankly, I think the latter is more insidious. It’s akin to “integrative medicine” creeping its way into respectable medical institutions.

    As a step in the right direction, what FB is doing is probably a good thing, but we really need to keep focussed on the bigger picture of education and personal responsibility for what we consume.

  14. mumadaddon 16 Dec 2016 at 5:02 pm

    BJ7,

    “Just think — if this trend continues, we will all be indoctrinated with the mainstream “truth,” and there will be no more controversies!”
    3. Slippery Slope.

    “I thought you were wrong there for a moment, but I failed to see that there are three sentences:”

    Nah, I just didn’t see the slippery slope; I just saw two paragraphs and two total distortions of what was said in the OP.

    This bit: “and there will be no more controversies”

    As if Steve N, or pretty much anyone here, wants to stamp out legitimate controversies.

  15. mumadaddon 16 Dec 2016 at 5:07 pm

    “Just think — if this trend continues, we will all be indoctrinated with the mainstream “truth,” and there will be no more controversies!”

    In fact, the whole sentence is a gross misrepresentation of Steve N’s point.

    What is mainstream is ‘truth’. Yep, he’s got Steve N’s perspective nailed. And mine for that matter. And presumably all skeptics’.

  16. mumadaddon 16 Dec 2016 at 5:30 pm

    Gorilla,

    “It seems very unlikely to stop at blatantly false stories — how are the massively misinformed stories that use empirically accurate numbers handled?”

    I think it will stop at blatantly false stories. FB are reacting to their implication in the spread of false news — they aren’t on a quest to improve the quality of journalism in general, and they will want to keep serving users content they like. This is about avoiding bad PR — though clearly the issue was legitimate and they’re taking real measures to counter it, rather than this being a token gesture.

  17. MosBenon 16 Dec 2016 at 5:43 pm

    It’s been an interesting year for Facebook. Back in May there were complaints from conservative media folks that the Facebook newsfeed unfairly prioritized liberal stories. Facebook stopped using human curators in response and then the election happened amid a swarm of fake news. And so now the human curators are back, though in a slightly different role and from third parties.

  18. Maj-Majon 16 Dec 2016 at 6:08 pm

    It’s fantastic news.
    Even more important than the immediate benefits (which are likely to be real, but we’ll see) is the fact that Facebook accepts to take responsibility for how their algoritm is, effectively, a major player in itself in the public discourse.
    This was the elephant in the room, and kudos to Facebook for moving forward. Once this critical point is accepted, I believe it’s likely that more steps will follow.

  19. mumadaddon 16 Dec 2016 at 6:13 pm

    Maj-Maj,

    “Once this critical point is accepted, I believe it’s likely that more steps will follow.”

    What makes you think they will do more?

  20. Willyon 16 Dec 2016 at 6:57 pm

    I’m proud to say I don’t Tweet, FB, Instagram, or whatever other platforms I likely don’t even know.

  21. mumadaddon 16 Dec 2016 at 7:02 pm

    Willy,

    I have invented a new social media platform called BBQ. I know you’ll be in to it.

    😉

  22. Willyon 16 Dec 2016 at 7:13 pm

    mumadadd–I’m on it!!!!!!!!

  23. TheGorillaon 16 Dec 2016 at 7:14 pm

    BillyJoe, really? Ignoring that we put plenty of not guilty people in prison all the time, often with the help of the group opinion of jurors, I don’t see how I could be taken for making any kind of slippery slope argument in context.

    Furthermore it’s a blatant misrepresentation of my comments in the first place — I believe I even pointed out how it wouldn’t be a bad thing to filter out BS in the very first sentence of my second comment. Clearly any call for wariness of X is saying not to do X.

    Do you have anything to say about what I wrote or are you more interested in being cute?

  24. TheGorillaon 16 Dec 2016 at 7:23 pm

    Yes I’m apparently grumpy right now 😀

  25. Maj-Majon 16 Dec 2016 at 8:04 pm

    @mumadadd

    What makes you think they will do more?

    The line had long been, essentially:
    “It’s just an algorithm. We don’t interfere, the code just makes choices based on what people like.”

    This is both true and misleading.
    Of course there is no human counting the bits, but no algorithm can be ‘neutral’.

    Just by doing things like tweaking differently the weight of the likes based on each variable of the social graph, they are shifting instantly millions of eyeballs.

    “The correlation between social graph ‘influencers weight’ and user education is now given a multiplier of 3.3. Is it reasonable or will a value of 3.32 improve the click rate of certain targeted ads?”

    This is a very unsophisticated example, just to show the point.

    But consider all the choices they have to make, all the time.

    They decide how much video content should increase the likelihood for certain content to appear in timelines. They can decide that the gender of users is shown in the interface 1 pixel bigger or smaller. They can decide that default geographical aggregation for feature X is a 50 miles instead of a 40 miles radius, except in areas where the number of users exceeds Y. They can decide if in the list of the arbitrary keywords that seed a primary regression the word “pregnancy” should be included or not.

    Every minute of the day, someone has to make such choices at Facebook – and none of them is “neutral”. Given Facebook’s size, any of those apparently small things matter enormously in creating opinion and shaping trends.

    A while ago, Facebook made the news with this study on ‘mood manipulation’ of the users.

    The press and many users found such study to be some ‘creepy manipulation’.

    This reaction shows that it’s widely misunderstood how Facebook works (and not only Facebook, but essentially all drivers of massive traffic based on an algorithm). It’s not that they had to especially “manipulate” anything in this case – they just make choices on their algorithm, and they do it all the time. There is simply no way to avoid it, when writing their code – any choice is a manipulation one way or another. It just can be done responsibly, or not.

    It’s in the news right now that Instagram apparently had a bug where posting a picture geolocated in Singapore increased the overall visibility of the picture in their algorithms. The bug apparently was discovered by chance by the public, and it gained attention because it seems a curious case. But how about a ‘bug’ that increases the visibility of pictures of people in the age bracket 18-25? There is almost certainly something along those lines, because younger people attract more clicks, and every engagement is money for a Social Network.

    How about changing such ‘privileged’ age bracket in the algorithm to 18-29? That has enormous consequences when you have a billion users, and widely influences perceptions of attractiveness in society, and it’s one way or another in any case an arbitrary choice. How about race or body shape? How about political affiliation or sexual preferences? How about wealthy zip codes vs suburbs? How about descriptions that detect spelling mistakes? How about habits of travelling abroad?

    They know all those things, and you can be entirely sure that they are all variables used in their algorithms – and there’s an inevitable degree of arbitrariness on how they are used.

    I think the public at large has not yet realized much of this stuff. For most people it’s still “just an algorithm” and it just “shows what people like and share”. But you can do evil things with an algorithm like that, and you can do good things, and everything in the middle.

    I think Facebook has tried by-and-large so far to avoid being evil, at the very least. They are navigating uncharted territory, and they are doing it with some sense of responsibility – which happens to coincide with their strategic interests, but still.

    They now show that they are moving, largely ahead of the public, in the direction of starting to recognize what above, and owning it. That means that they are forcing themselves to take responsibilities. Once it is accepted that in their algorithm there is potential for evil and potential for good, given their size, the public will start demanding more good, and more social responsibility.

    They will have no choice but essentially start negotiating their algorithm with society, to an increasing degree. This is also uncharted territory – but it’s better than denying reality.

  26. Steve Crosson 16 Dec 2016 at 11:53 pm

    Call me cynical, but I think this will backfire spectacularly. This is just one more thing “proving” that the mainstream media has a severe liberal bias. Or at least that will be the mantra in the conservative echo chamber.

    It won’t be long before anything deemed questionable by the “liberal” fact checkers will suddenly be regarded as the gospel truth. It will be a badge of honor in some circles.

    Seriously, Fox and every other conservative media outlet has been accusing the mainstream media of liberal bias for years — and it has worked spectacularly well. There was a Pew report a while ago showing that Fox News viewers were LESS knowledgeable about current events than people who watched no news at all. These people don’t believe anything on the “mainstream news”.

    By “admitting” the curation/fact-checking, you’re not going to get anyone to change their mind about so-called liberal bias.

  27. jayaravaon 17 Dec 2016 at 8:14 am

    What passes for news in most media is actually a specialist form of entertainment. So from that point of view, it’s all fake. It’s basically all about stimulating emotional arousal and focussed on fear, anger, disgust, and/or lust.

    And yes, anyone reliant on a single source for news is unwise at best. If that source is Facebook… well… trusting a corporation dedicated to commodifying your life and using it to sell advertising is very unwise.

  28. ccbowerson 17 Dec 2016 at 9:58 am

    “So from that point of view, it’s all fake.”

    Well that “point of view” fails to distinguish
    – rigorous news reporting that strives for perspective and intellectual honesty
    – ‘infotainment’ that is not factually incorrect, but of questionable value
    – slanted stories distorting facts for ideological leanings
    -completely fabricated stories for nefarious purposes or just $$.

    If your “point of view” is that it is all fake, then it doesn’t distinguish the above. I would toss that view out the window.

    “And yes, anyone reliant on a single source for news is unwise at best. If that source is Facebook… well… trusting a corporation dedicated to commodifying your life and using it to sell advertising is very unwise.”

    Most people are passive consumers of information at best, and often actively seek out stories that match their biases. So thinking of this at the level of the individual is not going to address the problem. Since Facebook and the like are already in the business of being a market for the exchange of these ideas, it is also their problem to make sure it is healthy one.

  29. Stevman17on 17 Dec 2016 at 1:08 pm

    “Of course, there is bias and misinformation across the political spectrum.”

    The conflation of bias and misinformation is, I believe, a source of confusion here.

    Everyone has a bias. Everything everyone writes is to some degree or another a product of that bias.
    Determining whether or not news has a bias is, therefore, irrelevant to the determination of whether the news is misleading.

    The editorial question should be whether the author is honest about their bias, and whether they’re undertaking a critical analysis of the issue, not whether they have a bias. Everyone has a bias.

  30. hardnoseon 17 Dec 2016 at 1:22 pm

    “Since Facebook and the like are already in the business of being a market for the exchange of these ideas, it is also their problem to make sure it is healthy one.”

    Yes Facebook, make sure my ideas are healthy. Guide me onward with your all-embracing wisdom and compassion.

  31. Willyon 17 Dec 2016 at 1:58 pm

    I’m with you, hardnose. I wanna read stuff that is known to be false!

    BTW, maybe you didn’t notice that the antecedent for “healthy” was “market”, not “ideas”.

  32. Steve Crosson 17 Dec 2016 at 2:20 pm

    ccbowers:

    Most people are passive consumers of information at best, and often actively seek out stories that match their biases. So thinking of this at the level of the individual is not going to address the problem. Since Facebook and the like are already in the business of being a market for the exchange of these ideas, it is also their problem to make sure it is healthy one.

    All completely true, but there are structural reasons why the problem may not be solvable at Facebook/Google level.

    For starters, as I mentioned above, many people already mistrust the “mainstream liberal media”. Any evidence of further “tampering” will merely confirm their suspicions. The rightwing blogosphere is already pushing this narrative.

    But the main reason is that the incentives are wrong. Facebook (and every other ad dependent medium) wants more readers, not less. They don’t want to offend or risk losing any of their potential customer base.

    Which is why Facebook immediately caved when they were accused of de-emphasizing ‘conservative’ news stories six months ago. They got rid of human curators and switched to an algorithm just so they could credibly make the claim of impartiality — thus preventing the loss of conservative customers.

    If FB truly cared about being an honest and accurate news source, either then or now, they could just simply say something to the effect of “hey, it’s not our fault that the Right spews even more BS than the Left. We check as carefully as we can to make sure the news is accurate”.

    Nope. They’re unwilling to do that because it risks the loss of some customers. Even now, they are just trying to pass the buck to someone else so they won’t have to take the blame i.e. lose customers.

    Like I said, there is no incentive for truly honest, impartial journalism — unless you are willing to settle for a much smaller piece of the pie. Which is exactly the approach that the partisan outlets have taken. They settle for a smaller, but potentially much more loyal customers base — as long as you continue to feed them what they want to hear.

    In hindsight, this was inevitable. It started with cable/satellite TV when the number of competing news sources increased dramatically, but it really exploded with the advent of the Internet. We went from a handful of news providers to an almost infinite number of alternatives. The “main stream media” had no place to go but down, while the niche players had no place to go but up. The overall viewership metrics seem to bear this out. Newspapers and large networks are struggling to maintain customers while smaller niche player can grow rapidly, especially if they pick the right niche.

    All of which strongly implies that we can’t depend on the media to fix this problem. There is no incentive for them to do so.

  33. Steve Crosson 17 Dec 2016 at 2:24 pm

    Never mind. I take it all back.

    Facebook should just hire hardnose with his infallible bullshit detector.

    if hardnose believes it, then we know it is bullshit.

    Problem solved!!

  34. tb29607on 17 Dec 2016 at 3:23 pm

    HN’s intelligent and conscious universe still hasn’t guided us to universally beneficial agreement?

    Weird

  35. hardnoseon 17 Dec 2016 at 8:51 pm

    Facebook is politically biased and that is no secret. The Trump movement was ignited by non-mainstream news sources, especially Alex Jones. These non-mainstream sources may be wacky and irrational, but the important thing is they depict an alternate reality.

    If you belong to the mainstream, like all or most of you here, the Truth is obvious. You are never exposed to alternate perspectives. You KNOW what is real and what is not.

    But life is not so simple. There is some validity to the idea that we are being pushed around by the rich and powerful. And that is what fired up the Trump movement — millions of Americans who are sick of being controlled and despised and abandoned by what is supposed to be their government.

    And even if the mainstream is as well-intentioned as you think, it is still condescending and elitist and contemptuous of the American public. And hypocritical, if you ask me.

    So now we can have Soros and Gates and the Clintons filtering our news for us. Thank you Facebook for monitoring our reality.

  36. Willyon 17 Dec 2016 at 11:30 pm

    Aaahhh, an “alternate reality”. ROFLMFAO!

    hardnose: You haven’t even grasped what Dr. Novella’s post, nor the FB decision, is about. Really, you haven’t. READ more s l o w l y.

  37. tb29607on 18 Dec 2016 at 12:04 am

    I do not know if this is the best thread to post this but I asked a self described “anthropogenic global warming skeptic” his reasoning. He presented me with the following:

    From around 1945 to the mid 70’s global temperatures were decreasing. During this same period global CO2 production and concentration were steadily increasing. So given a 30 year cooling trend despite increasing CO2, does this not constitute a problem with anthropogenic activity being the major contributing factor in global warming?

    I looked and can not find fault with his data. Is there an explanation beyond “it is multifactorial” because the “warming is due to the sun and we can prove warming is consistent with sun spot activity” arguement strikes me as overblown. Although I confess I have had trouble finding sun spot activity data.

  38. BillyJoe7on 18 Dec 2016 at 12:52 am

    tb29607,

    Tell him to look at ALL the data.

    From 1910 to the present there is a clear correlation between rising CO2 and rising global temperatures.

    It is true that between about 1940 and 1975 there was a slight cooling of global temperatures while CO2 levels continued to rise. This was largely due to the effect of aerosols, especially sulphates. Increasing atmospheric pollution due to increased industrial activity after WW2, increased the amount of heat from the sun that was reflected back into space, which led to a slight cooling trend despite rising levels of CO2. Action was then taken to reduce atmospheric pollution. This action was successful as evidenced by data showing decreasing levels of sulphates in the atmosphere after about 1970 and a subsequent resumption of the warming trend.

    The following video using graphs explains this more clearly than I can.
    (Just be aware that this video simultaneously covers the myth that, during the 1970s, climate scientist were predicting an ice age – it was not a prediction, it was a projection: if sulphate levels continued to rise as they were, some scientists projected that we could be in for an ice age)

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=_F6bq0l18Ng

  39. hardnoseon 18 Dec 2016 at 9:03 am

    There is no certainty about climate change. Even James Lovelock, the original climate change scientists, is now a skeptic.

    However, we should try to pollute less regardless of whether burning oil is causing global warming or not. That is what this all hinges on, and everyone ignores it. We are rapidly destroying the planet.

    Democrats and Republicans are screaming past each other, on this subject, as on most other subjects.

  40. hardnoseon 18 Dec 2016 at 9:06 am

    I got it Willy, they want to screen news stories. They pretend it’s only to help us poor idiots so we don’t get brainwashed by conspiracy theorists. But where exactly does it stop? What will prevent them from feeding us their biases?

    I know they’re all paternalistic and love everyone and just want to help. That is why I despise them so much.

  41. hardnoseon 18 Dec 2016 at 9:09 am

    And by the way, I never read infowars. I once got into a crazy conversation with a woman who had soaked up every right-wing conspiracy theory so I know how bad it can get.

    On the OTHER HAND. The Soros, Gates and Clinton crowd needs to stay away from our information sources. But of course they won’t.

    And Novella doesn’t get any of this. He is as paternalistic and condescending as they come.

  42. Steven Novellaon 18 Dec 2016 at 9:41 am

    HN – you are perpetually clueless. Many people have made the point that decreasing fossil fuel use will also decrease pollution. In fact it will save billions in health care costs and this alone is worth the shift to cleaner energy. I have made that point multiple times here on this very blog. This is such a common argument there is even a cartoon about it (http://greenmonk.net/2010/01/07/what-if-we-create-a-better-world-for-nothing) So, again, you have your nice shiny little narrative and don’t let blatant facts get in the way.

    Pretty much every time I write about any issue that has to do with regulation or quality control I acknowledge the downside. I am largely against the nanny state, excessive regulation, and paternalism. But that does not mean the only other option is the wild west. There is a reasonable compromise in the middle, despite the slippery slope arguments that both extremes would put forward, including you.

    You have also completely misread this issue. This has nothing at all to do with news sources. Facebook is not a news source. They have no ability to do anything to news sources. They are simply changing the algorithm by which some posts on Facebook are shared and promoted over other posts on Facebook. Perhaps you have no idea how Facebook or social media works.

    Essentially what Facebook is saying is that they no longer consider themselves just a platform. They also acknowledge that even as just a platform they have not been entirely neutral. There is no such thing when some posts are promoted over others. So, they might as well acknowledge that they have some responsibility as a news aggregator and overtly consider quality in their algorithm, at least to not promote blatant bullshit as if it were news.

    There are tons of news aggregators out there. Perhaps you have no clue what an aggregator is. Many aggregators have a political ideology, and most are up front about it. Drudge report is a conservative news aggregator. You can even find aggregators of aggregators which list them by their political editorial policy.

    Facebook’s move will have zero effect on the availability of any kind of news. None whatsoever. It is still all there, including any kind of bubble you want to wrap yourself in. They only control how Facebook chooses which items to promote over which others. This is no more paternalistic than journalists deciding only to publish news stories that they can independently source, so that they don’t spread rumors as if they were actual news. That’s not paternalistic either. It is just using editorial policy to improve quality.

  43. Willyon 18 Dec 2016 at 10:43 am

    No, hardnose, you don’t “got it”.

  44. mumadaddon 18 Dec 2016 at 12:04 pm

    Maj-Maj,

    Your point about the ramifications of FB tweaking its algorithm seems fine to me, but I don’t think it’s a basis for concluding that they will do more to ensure that they promote accurate content.

    That FB was implicated in the spread of fake news is damning, and they are rightly responding to this, but I don’t see a legitimate business reason for them to go any further than they have.

    This isn’t cynicism on my part, just a generic point about how businesses operate. I don’t see a strong enough business motivation for them to go further than they need to.

  45. mumadaddon 18 Dec 2016 at 12:06 pm

    Further than they have to in order to repair the bad publicity, that is.

  46. hardnoseon 18 Dec 2016 at 12:14 pm

    “Many people have made the point that decreasing fossil fuel use will also decrease pollution.”

    WHAT?? When did I ever disagree with that?

  47. hardnoseon 18 Dec 2016 at 12:22 pm

    “This is no more paternalistic than journalists deciding only to publish news stories that they can independently source, so that they don’t spread rumors as if they were actual news. That’s not paternalistic either. It is just using editorial policy to improve quality.”

    Except this is FACEBOOK, that crummy social media software that we are all stuck with. How many people will NOT be driven to Infowars thanks to Facebook’s new algorithms?

    One person’s crazy BS is another person’s common sense.

    This election turned out the way it did (like it or not, and I’m sure you don’t) largely because of the internet. And that means google, facebook, wikipedia and youtube.

    And now Facebook wants to do something about this horrible thing that happened. Except I don’t think it’s horrible. I am glad millions of Americans finally revolted against mainstream politics.

    Too bad it had to be Trump, but at least we finally got rid of the compassionate Clintons.

  48. RickKon 18 Dec 2016 at 1:22 pm

    Facebook is not a public utility.

    If they want to impose editorial standards, that is their right.

    If Facebook disallows the dissemination of child porn, is that paternalistic? If Facbook down-rates messages advocating violence, is that paternalistic? Only the post-truth “my opinion is as good as your fact” crowd can find fault with a social network that is implementing a user-driven system for increasing accuracy and truth.

    But of course, Facebooks biggest crime is thinking that the world can be better, and that they can do something to make it better. Hardnose is consistent in his disdain for anyone who harbors such thoughts.

    And Trump, with his single-minded self-enrichment, his gold-plated life built on exploiting others, his fake university, his fake charity and his fake hair is the perfect standard-bearer for the hardnoses of the world.

  49. ChrisHon 18 Dec 2016 at 2:57 pm

    HN: “How many people will NOT be driven to Infowars thanks to Facebook’s new algorithms?”

    Why should you care? Many of us know better than to listen to the rabid ravings of Alex Jones and friends.

    “And now Facebook wants to do something about this horrible thing that happened. Except I don’t think it’s horrible. I am glad millions of Americans finally revolted against mainstream politics. ”

    So you are okay with an random idiot shooting up a pizza store for no real reason. Perhaps you should step away from the keyboard and to a check on your basic values.

    And this is exactly why I stay away from Facebook. Plus, it is just a vehicle for the advertisers. I see know reason why I should spend anytime on making others money while getting exposed to some rather nasty people, like hardnose.

  50. Willyon 18 Dec 2016 at 7:44 pm

    hardnose: During the campaign for POTUS, I frequented the Wall Street Journal online. The claims made by many folks in those threads (on a major US newspaper) were often patently false, yet they came from “alternate reality” (didja really mean to use that term, hn???) websites that posted such idiocy.

    A (very) few examples: Hillary was fired from the Watergate investigation, she gleefully defended a rapist, she will “take away” your guns, and the DNC advertised on Craig’s List for paid “actors” to fill seats at their convention. These things and many more are FACTUALLY untrue, yet they were repeated many times each day–for MONTHS..

    What is wrong with identifying them as false? Are they OK in your “alternate reality”? Is everyone entitled their own “truth”?

    I’ve seen a lot of your posts and I normally ignore you, but I’ve just gotta ask, how old are you? PLEASE don’t tell me you’ve been around for five, six, or more decades. I do ever so much want to believe that you are a twenty or thirty-something. THAT is my desired “alternate reality” and I’m sticking to it!!!!

  51. tmac57on 18 Dec 2016 at 8:08 pm

    The following quote is from Ron Suskind writing in The New York Times Magazine in 2004, and speaks directly to the insidiousness of the project that seeks to untether the public from fact checking and serious journalistic standards so that they can now be manipulated like puppets:

    In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

    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.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “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.”

    That should resonate with what has transpired in this last election, and send chills down your spine. They have won a victory of unprecedented proportions in American history against the bulwark of the free press, and if this stands, we are in even more dire trouble.
    Take this seriously, and actively fight against those who seek to “create new realities”, because there are other words for that: Lies and propaganda.
    Treat them as such.

  52. Maj-Majon 18 Dec 2016 at 8:47 pm

    @ mumadadd

    Maj-Maj,
    Your point about the ramifications of FB tweaking its algorithm seems fine to me, but I don’t think it’s a basis for concluding that they will do more to ensure that they promote accurate content.

    That FB was implicated in the spread of fake news is damning, and they are rightly responding to this, but I don’t see a legitimate business reason for them to go any further than they have.

    This isn’t cynicism on my part, just a generic point about how businesses operate. I don’t see a strong enough business motivation for them to go further than they need to.

    Perhaps you’re right – we’ll see.

    To some degree, however, avoiding excessive evil is a reasonably wise business practice in itself for any large business with a long-term perspective. Piss off everybody, you’re dead.

    On top of that, any business is made of humans – with their complex motivations that usually include some desire to do good in the world.

    Even if we were to accept that Zuckerberg himself is completely cynical about the topic, he still depends for the business to function on the motivation of the Facebook employees. I don’t see a bright future for any Silicon Valley enterprise that manages to convince everybody that they are set to destroy humanity. A lot of skilled people would just leave and join the next cool thing.

    That makes me moderately optimistic that they will try to be serious about doing some right things.

  53. hardnoseon 18 Dec 2016 at 10:07 pm

    “Facebooks biggest crime is thinking that the world can be better, and that they can do something to make it better. Hardnose is consistent in his disdain for anyone who harbors such thoughts.”

    It is the people who think they know how the world should be, and what is best for everyone, who are the most dangerous.

  54. hardnoseon 18 Dec 2016 at 10:17 pm

    [What is wrong with identifying them as false? Are they OK in your “alternate reality”? Is everyone entitled their own “truth”?]

    I understand there is all kinds of craziness, and many things that are obviously false. But most information is somewhere between truth and lies. Everything is slanted and distorted, that is the nature of communication.

    No one is qualified to decide for all of us what is “true.” If you had any respect for the general public, you would let them figure it out for themselves. But you don’t respect the general public at all.

  55. BillyJoe7on 19 Dec 2016 at 5:36 am

    The Myth Regarding The General Public.

    The general public has a general IQ of 100.
    I think we can do better using people with expertise in areas in which the general public has an IQ of much less than half that.

    It’s got absolutely nothing to do with respect.

    I respect Yobbo down the road for succeeding in making his life happy despite his obvious disabilies, but his IQ with respect to climatology is not going to buy my respect for his views on climate change.
    Sorry if life sucks like that.

  56. Cdesign Proponentsiston 19 Dec 2016 at 5:44 am

    @hardnose

    “One person’s crazy BS is another person’s common sense.”

    “No one is qualified to decide for all of us what is ‘true.’ If you had any respect for the general public, you would let them figure it out for themselves. But you don’t respect the general public at all.”

    It’s a good thing humans have developed logic, reason, standards of evidence, empiricism and critical thinking to try to sort out what is actually true and not true. And it has been shown very well that the quality of being true/rational does not necessarily make something more popular. So the idea that the “free marketplace” of ideas will eventually lead to the best and/or most true ideas rise to the top, is absolutely false on its head.

    The people of Facebook has recognized that the tool they created is posing a genuine hazard to the general public because of the way it is being used – that is, being used to spread deliberate falsehoods and misinformation. Please, take your pseudo-libertarian ideas about truth elsewhere.

  57. BillyJoe7on 19 Dec 2016 at 5:45 am

    James Lovelock.

    Firstly, it is false that his ideas ushered in the science of climate change.
    Secondly…

    This guy is like a clakker flapping in the breeze.
    In the past, his non evidence based opinion on climate change was one of catastrophism.
    Now his equally non evidence based opinion on climate change is one of denialism.

    He thinks CO2 is no longer rising!
    Oh, and he has a new book coming out 😉

  58. BillyJoe7on 19 Dec 2016 at 6:29 am

    James Lovelock’s Catastrophism:

    “By 2040, parts of the Sahara desert will have moved into middle Europe. We are talking about Paris – as far north as Berlin”

    “Before the end of this century, 80% of the world’s population would be wiped out.”

    “It is not the death of people that is the main problem, it is the fact that the plants can’t grow – there will be almost no food grown in Europe [by 2040]”

    “Even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.”

    James Lovelock’s Denialism:

    “The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago. That led to some alarmist books – mine included – because it looked clear-cut, but it hasn’t happened”

    “The climate is doing its usual tricks. There’s nothing much really happening yet. We were supposed to be halfway toward a frying world now”

    “The world has not warmed up very much since the millennium. Twelve years is a reasonable time … it (the temperature) has stayed almost constant, whereas it should have been rising”

  59. BillyJoe7on 19 Dec 2016 at 6:32 am

    Correction: “He thinks CO2 is no longer rising!”
    Actually, he thinks it’s not rising as fast as the models predicted.
    That is false as this graph clearly shows:

    http://climatefeedback.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/WGI_AR5_FigSPM-10.jpg

  60. Maj-Majon 19 Dec 2016 at 9:24 am

    @Cdesign Proponentsist

    So the idea that the “free marketplace” of ideas will eventually lead to the best and/or most true ideas rise to the top, is absolutely false on its head.

    I agree with the overall spirit of your post.

    Let me just point out a common misconception with what the “marketplace of ideas” is.

    “Marketplace of ideas” is not like some “Socialized economy of ideas” – where every idea has to be given equal weight by everybody all the time.
    It’s quite the contrary.

    My dentist’s opinion on cavities carries weight.
    If a newspaper interviews my dentist about cavities, such newspaper is just being an actor in the marketplace.

    There’s nothing in the marketplace of ideas that compels my newspaper to publish every lunacy about cavities. Choosing what to publish, how to publish, how to frame it – those are choices that the newspaper has to make, and that’s the role of the newspaper as actor in the marketplace of ideas.

    When the newspaper gives weight to the lunacy that Rosemary cures cavities, and it turns out it doesn’t work, the newspaper loses credibility. (= loses its own weight).
    That’s how good “ideas” rise to the top.

    Granted – we all see the flaws and setbacks in this system. But it’s also the system that makes bridges not fall, heart-surgeries succeed, and people not killing each other for a slice of pizza.

    If you want to see it another way, consider the peer-reviewed journals system an effective (by-and-large) application of the marketplace of ideas. You won’t publish in Nature because “Hey, I deserve a voice too”. You publish in Nature because the “market” vets you. Such “market” includes the scientific community, the experts in the field, the reviewers etc – all of them carry relative weight in the marketplace.

  61. Bill Openthalton 19 Dec 2016 at 11:10 am

    ccbowers —

    Well that “point of view” fails to distinguish
    – rigorous news reporting that strives for perspective and intellectual honesty
    – ‘infotainment’ that is not factually incorrect, but of questionable value
    – slanted stories distorting facts for ideological leanings
    -completely fabricated stories for nefarious purposes or just $$.

    Since Facebook and the like are already in the business of being a market for the exchange of these ideas, it is also their problem to make sure it is healthy one.

    That’s the kind view. Selling advertising is their core business, not being a market. Hint: unless they charge people for their accounts, they will only be beholden to their advertisers. Facebook is nothing more than the Internet’s equivalent of a (free) magazine, with the readers providing the “content” between the ads, which costs even less than getting hacks to write badly-researched articles.

    Before the advent of mass advertising (and maybe still in those fields of endeavour where advertising isn’t ruling the roost), when newspapers and magazines were mostly funded by their readers, one could have an attempt at serious journalism (as long as it brought in the dollars) — but somehow I doubt it ever existed across a publication. The moment Byte ceased to be Carl Helmers’ hobby (and there was big money to be made selling microcomputers) its editorial policy degenerated into “please the advertiser” (and McGraw-Hill wasn’t the worst publishing house in that respect).

    Now if Facebook would get rid of ads for homeopathy, magic weight-loss systems, “how to get rid of foot-fungus” and other nonsense, I might believe they’re in the business of providing a marketplace for ideas. Then they can have my $2/month subscription. Until then, they’re no better than the local advertising rags cluttering my snail-mailbox.

  62. Kabboron 19 Dec 2016 at 11:16 am

    It’s as simple as this:

    Popularity becomes the truth
    Cat videos are popular
    Both sides of the political isle should embrace what is to come: Grumpy cat for president 2020. Purr-esident. Commeownder and chief.

  63. Bill Openthalton 19 Dec 2016 at 11:17 am

    Maj-Maj —

    My dentist’s opinion on cavities carries weight.
    If a newspaper interviews my dentist about cavities, such newspaper is just being an actor in the marketplace.

    Like my ex-dentist who turned woo-ish and wanted to (at great cost to me) replace all my amalgam fillings with nice, pearly-white, composite resin fillings? He got (paid for?) a page-length interview in the local free “newspaper”. According to him, the whole population (including yours truly) was in imminent danger of acute mercury poisoning.

  64. hardnoseon 19 Dec 2016 at 11:31 am

    “The general public has a general IQ of 100.”

    That pretty much summarizes the attitude of this blog, and others like it. And Facebook, Wikipedia, etc.

    Complete and utter misunderstanding of the IQ concept.

    Complete and utter misunderstanding of the limits of logic and reason.

    Complete and utter misunderstanding of the role of subconscious mental processes — MOST of what you think happens outside of your conscious awareness — your conscious mind has very limited access to information — your subconscious mind does most of the work. And you don’t know what it does or why.

    Scientists, rational smart people, experts — are even more limited than the “low IQ” general public, because they are more likely to shut out their intuition and common sense. Intuition and common sense (subconscious mental processes) have MUCH GREATER access to information than the conscious “rational” mind.

    Experts are capable of believing in sheer nonsense that is easily rejected by common sense and intuition. They are taught to ignore common sense.

    And by the way, I am a “smart” educated person. I had been brainwashed into the ideology you all follow. Not any more. Now I respect human beings, no matter what their supposed IQ.

    And most people don’t even know what IQ means, they just worship the number.

  65. chikoppion 19 Dec 2016 at 11:49 am

    [hardnose] Scientists, rational smart people, experts — are even more limited than the “low IQ” general public, because they are more likely to shut out their intuition and common sense. Intuition and common sense (subconscious mental processes) have MUCH GREATER access to information than the conscious “rational” mind.

    You continue to amaze and delight.

    What happens when two people have equally strong and opposing “intuitions” about a subject? How will you go about determining which, if either, is more likely true?

  66. Kabboron 19 Dec 2016 at 12:04 pm

    Hardnose,

    Thank you for reminding me that we all worship IQ numbers, I really have been falling behind in my animal sacrifices to the all mighty Quotient. Still not sure what that ‘I’ part is about, but that is part of the fun of being in this cult.

    The fact that our brains do a lot of processing outside our conscious awareness is not a good argument for accepting nonsense.

    Now, what are the magic words we use when burning the goat heart again? klaatu, Verata, something..

  67. hardnoseon 19 Dec 2016 at 12:43 pm

    And yes, common sense told people the earth was flat and the sun goes around it. But the problem was lack of information, not lack of reasoning ability. And for most people, it made no difference. Unless they wanted to sail to the east by going west.

  68. hardnoseon 19 Dec 2016 at 12:44 pm

    “What happens when two people have equally strong and opposing “intuitions” about a subject? How will you go about determining which, if either, is more likely true?”

    It’s because they have different information and experiences about the subject. You would have realized that if you thought about it for 2 or more seconds.

  69. Maj-Majon 19 Dec 2016 at 12:45 pm

    Bill Openthalt,
    I’m sorry for the bad experience with your dentist, and the local newspaper.
    I trust however you still consider dentistry to be worthwhile, despite some rogue practitioners?

  70. hardnoseon 19 Dec 2016 at 12:52 pm

    The subconscious mind is the source of wisdom and inspiration. Conscious logic is an after-filter we apply to information. It does not generate ideas, it only helps us notice contradictions and errors.

    Kahneman and Tversky are loved by liberal elitist academics, for showing that people often fail to use formal logic. Therefore, we “know” the general low IQ public can’t be trusted to make good decisions. The liberal elite must guide them.

    K & T believed intuition is an easier, quicker, but inferior, way of processing information. The lazy way to think.

    What they did not understand is that formal logic is a tiny subset of natural logic. Human language, and thought, is infinitely more complex and sophisticated than formal logic.

  71. chikoppion 19 Dec 2016 at 1:43 pm

    Are you not able to answer the question?

    “What happens when two people have equally strong and opposing “intuitions” about a subject? How will you go about determining which, if either, is more likely true?”

    [hardnose] It’s because they have different information and experiences about the subject. You would have realized that if you thought about it for 2 or more seconds.

    I didn’t ask why they might have opposing “intuitions.” I asked how you will go about determining which, if either, is more likely true.

  72. hardnoseon 19 Dec 2016 at 2:46 pm

    [I didn’t ask why they might have opposing “intuitions.” I asked how you will go about determining which, if either, is more likely true.]

    I would find out which one has the higher IQ.

  73. BillyJoe7on 19 Dec 2016 at 3:15 pm

    Apparently an IQ of 100 is a low IQ
    Apparently saying that the average IQ is 100 is elitist.

    Apparently Intuition and Commonsense are harbingers of truth.
    Apparently General Relativity and Quantum Theory are intuitive and commonsensical.

    Apparently we have an idiot in this blog with a low IQ of 100.

  74. BillyJoe7on 19 Dec 2016 at 3:16 pm

    …and he is butt hurt.

  75. Bill Openthalton 19 Dec 2016 at 4:00 pm

    chikoppi —

    What happens when two people have equally strong and opposing “intuitions” about a subject? How will you go about determining which, if either, is more likely true?

    That would depend on the subject. For those subjects we can reasonably tackle through the scientific method, one would go with science. In matters logical, it would be unwise to doubt formal reasoning. In matters moral, one goes with, or against the majority based on one’s character. In matters of taste, one does as one pleases.

  76. chikoppion 19 Dec 2016 at 4:07 pm

    At best, you are admitting that you think all opinions, even those that are opposing and mutually exclusive, are equally correct. Or, at least, that it is impossible to discriminate between them (which means you have no basis on which to argue about the veracity of anything anyone else has to say).

    Do you really want to defend that position?

  77. hardnoseon 19 Dec 2016 at 4:17 pm

    “you are admitting that you think all opinions, even those that are opposing and mutually exclusive, are equally correct.”

    I never said anything like that. Based on my own knowledge and experience, certain things are more correct than others.

    But another person, with different knowledge and experience, might have a different opinion.

    To decide who is right, you would need all the information. Which we seldom have, and we never know the future.

    Trump vs Hillary is an example. The amount of information is vast and it would be impossible to collect it all. And no one could guess what either of them would do in the future. So people guessed and used their intuition and made a decision.

    No amount of formal logic could tell you which one would be better. Of course you think you know, but you don’t.

  78. chikoppion 19 Dec 2016 at 4:49 pm

    So I said you admit that you are incapable of distinguishing whether one or another opinion is more or less correct. You reply, “no you didn’t.” Then you immediately present an argument wherein you claim the veracity of two opposing opinions is indistinguishable.

    Also, you are attempting to shift the goalposts. Two people can truthfully say that the platform of one candidate or the other best aligns with their own personal values and beliefs. These are not mutually exclusive opinions.

    The same is not true for, say, identifying which candidate’s fiscal policy is most likely increase the deficit or which treatment is more likely to cure a disease.

    Intuition is a measure of how you ‘feel’ about something, based on the paucity of individual knowledge and experience. It is a garbage methodology for distinguishing fact from fiction.

    You continue to fall prey to the idea that there is no knowledge without ‘perfect’ knowledge. That no matter how many facts are know they are useless unless all possible and potential facts are known. This is a naive and solipsistic position.

  79. Bill Openthalton 19 Dec 2016 at 4:52 pm

    hardnose —
    Politics (and morality, which are both about living together in more-or-less peaceful harmony) are indeed matters where people decide based on their irrational likes and dislikes, and rationalise afterwards. You are right when you say that no-one can forecast what Trump or Hillary will do (or whether they’ll die on the job), but that doesn’t stop a minority from getting overly excited about either.

    To anyone with some knowledge of history, it is obvious Trump isn’t the second coming of Hitler. And that Hillary isn’t a pizza-addicted pedophile, etc. That doesn’t mean we cannot be reasonably sure about AGW (even if we can reasonably differ on what the best strategy for the future might be), or any other matter where there is an established body of science, such as vaccinations, or evolution.

    It is just as irrational to believe in deities, zombies and magic as it is to assume one’s moral choices to be universal (across time and space), though we observe humans doing exactly this all the time, and rationalising their behaviour. But that doesn’t mean nothing is certain, and any crazy idea about the shape of the earth, or the existence of an afterlife, a conscious universe, or cells “deciding” how to change their genome, has to be taken seriously because one dislikes “randomness”.

  80. Bill Openthalton 19 Dec 2016 at 5:02 pm

    chikoppi —

    It has been extremely difficult to make a link between fiscal policies and a country’s debt. There has been government spending that increased the national debt, and government spending that reduced it (after a while). Treating economics(*) (and politics) as objective knowledge is grist to hardnose’s mill.

    (*)Economists can’t even agree a posteriori on the effect of economic policies.

  81. Bill Openthalton 19 Dec 2016 at 5:03 pm

    Maj-Maj —
    I changed dentists. And I still have all my teeth :).

  82. Steve Crosson 19 Dec 2016 at 5:17 pm

    hardnose:

    And yes, common sense told people the earth was flat and the sun goes around it. But the problem was lack of information, not lack of reasoning ability.

    But you’re perfectly comfortable when the only information that people have access to (or, at least that they seek out and pay attention to) is blatantly, demonstrably and often intentionally FALSE.

    Nope … can’t see any possible problem here.

  83. hardnoseon 19 Dec 2016 at 6:41 pm

    “But you’re perfectly comfortable when the only information that people have access to (or, at least that they seek out and pay attention to) is blatantly, demonstrably and often intentionally FALSE.”

    We have access to all kinds of information. If someone only reads Infowars, they might soak up a lot of bizarre ideas. It is our responsibility to vary our news sources.

    People should be aware what kind of bias a website has. If I read something at Salon or Slate, I assume there is a “liberal” bias, and I have to fact-check it with a site that leans the other way.

    I would guess that most of the screaming extremists on either side never try to balance their news sources.

    The answer is not to have facebook decide for us what is more or less likely to be true. Maybe people will gradually get used to having to determine for themselves which sources seem more reliable.

  84. Maj-Majon 19 Dec 2016 at 7:02 pm

    Hardnose,

    Scientists, rational smart people, experts — are even more limited than the “low IQ” general public

    A society based on cluelessness is an intriguing idea, but difficult to try.
    That’s because it would self destruct before calling a meeting to agree on a basic institutional framework.

  85. RickKon 19 Dec 2016 at 7:13 pm

    Facebook already decides what you see. They’re just adjusting the algorithm.

    Hardnose, do you have a problem with school lunch programs that decide to reduce the sugar and trans-fat content of the meals that they serve?

    People are welcome to look beyond Facebook just as kids are welcome to bring their own lunch to school.

    Here’s an idea – let’s never expose anyone to any information they didn’t ask to see. Let’s put babies in a room with blank walls and just wait until they’re old enough to to ask for education before we teach them anything. That will minimize societal biases and maximize the child’s reliance on “intuition and common sense.” Isn’t that the recipe for a perfect world?

    But whatever we do, let’s protect internet users from the the threat of being exposed to the phrase “People who know more about this topic than you do have agreed this article is BS.” It appears to be very important to you to shield people from exposure to such a terrible experience.

  86. tmac57on 19 Dec 2016 at 7:25 pm

    I am really sick of these comment threads being turned in to the ‘Hardnose Show’.
    This is the same BS instinct that causes fake news stories to go viral on FB.
    Controversy and outrage draws eyeballs…and gets unqualified assholes elected to be president.
    Sorry, I just can’t take this anymore. I just had to unload.

  87. BillyJoe7on 19 Dec 2016 at 10:46 pm

    The problem is that the troll is the epitome of BS so he is obviously against the public not having BS availabe to them. Not only is it time for FB to adjust its algorithm, it’s time for SN to adjust his algorithm, because this BS is not going away and none of us can stand to see this BS left unpunished.

  88. chikoppion 19 Dec 2016 at 11:50 pm

    Eh. I think he occasionally provides a useful foil (when he isn’t simply being contradictory).

    https://youtu.be/kQFKtI6gn9Y

    [hardnose] We have access to all kinds of information. If someone only reads Infowars, they might soak up a lot of bizarre ideas. It is our responsibility to vary our news sources.

    People should be aware what kind of bias a website has. If I read something at Salon or Slate, I assume there is a “liberal” bias, and I have to fact-check it with a site that leans the other way.

    Absent from this strategy is an epistemology that provides a justified reason to believe one source is more true than the other, or in fact to determine if either are true. What you have is a comparison of narratives to choose between, guided only by your biases. ‘Intuition’ will lead you to accept the source that most agrees with your preferred narrative, regardless of actual veracity. (Although taking the extra step of considering the counter-position is laudable.)

    It is precisely this abandonment of journalistic objectivity, placing the consumer in the role of ombudsman, that has led to this “post-truth” crises of public discourse.

    Purveyors of ‘news’ have commoditized this trend by inventing ‘facts’ that serve to flatter people’s biases. People can now choose what is ‘true’ because there will always be a ‘news’ source available to sell the ‘facts’ they prefer.

    It strikes me that this is completely opposite from the classical Stoic progression:

    Physics (what is true) > Ethics (what is good) > Logic (what action is virtuous)

    We’ll never agree on what action is virtuous if we can’t have a discussion about what is good. We can’t have a discussion about what is good if truth is reduced to abject subjectivity (epistemological solipsism).

    It used to be that the reputation of a journalist/editor/paper was at risk. Now, likes, clicks, and retweets are what sells advertising. Selling convenient lies is actually a strategy for success. We need a new code and objective standard of journalism.

  89. Cdesign Proponentsiston 20 Dec 2016 at 12:47 am

    @Maj-Maj

    I was very careful to put “free marketplace” in quotes. I was saying it as a sort of facetious parody of what hardnose is trying to argue. I think it would have been more effective had I said instead “your ‘free marketplace,'” referring to hardnose personally, and to say pseudo-libertarian, because people like hardnose have very mixed up and confusing ideas about this, as evidenced in this comment section. Rest assured that all of your points are fair and well taken.

  90. Pixy Misaon 20 Dec 2016 at 2:49 am

    Far right? Charles C. W. Cooke (mentioned in the article) leans libertarian, and Ben Shapiro is no friend to, and frequently a target of, the “alt-right”. Calling them “far right” is a lazy slur.

    And that that line that “Reality has a liberal bias” is equally lazy, self-congratulatory nonsense. It’s no more plausible than claiming that “Reality has a conservative bias” or that “Reality has a cheesecake bias”. We know only too well that belief in nonsense crosses all boundaries.

    Those significant quibbles aside, Snopes is generally good on subjects other than politics. Politifact aren’t reliable at all; they’ve given different truth ratings to the same statement made by different people. Factcheck seems better; I’ve seen accusations of bias, but not the sort of clear documented evidence that exists for Politifact.

    But the critics are correct: All of those sources are left-leaning. And since the whole “fake news” brouhaha revolves around fake political news, and the *perception* of bias, that’s a real problem.

    Who would I suggest to balance things from the right? I don’t know; all the mainstream media outlets except Fox are left-leaning and unreliable. Fox is right-leaning and unreliable. Other sources are minor and either lack resources or are unreliable, or, most usually, both.

  91. BillyJoe7on 20 Dec 2016 at 6:14 am

    Yesterday Jerry Coyne banned someone from commenting on his blog for saying the following:
    “Please stick to your biology, Prof. Coyne, leave the grammar to us writers”

    A few days ago Steven Novella had to put up with this:
    “And Novella doesn’t get any of this. He is as paternalistic and condescending as they come”

    Jerry’s explanation for banning ther commenter:

    “I don’t want people like this commenting here…I don’t understand why people can’t be civil…Why must they pull rank and be rude to their host? Oh well, such is humanity”

    Of course, Jerry Coyne has a pretty thin skin, but still…

  92. Yehouda Harpazon 20 Dec 2016 at 7:58 am

    > # tmac57on 19 Dec 2016 at 7:25 pm

    > I am really sick of these comment threads being turned in to the ‘Hardnose Show’.

    Hear, hear.

    I read this blog quite a lot, mainly for the comments, but in many many cases the discussion just
    go stray by Hardnose or Michael Egnor. I see very very very little gain from arguing with them.

  93. tmac57on 20 Dec 2016 at 10:24 am

    Pixy Misa- “Politifact aren’t reliable at all; they’ve given different truth ratings to the same statement made by different people. ”

    Can you back this up with examples that we can double check instead of taking your opinion on this?

  94. Pixy Misaon 21 Dec 2016 at 8:40 pm

    Fair question. I just checked, and my #1 example was changed yesterday to give the two the same rating. To give Politifact due credit, they note the change at the top of the article. On the other hand, it took them nearly five years to fix it.

    Ron Paul says US had no federal income tax before 1913: http://www.politifact.com/texas/statements/2012/jan/31/ron-paul/ron-paul-says-federal-income-tax-rate-was-0-percen/
    Jim Webb says US had no federal income tax before 1913: http://www.politifact.com/virginia/statements/2015/aug/24/jim-webb/jim-webb-says-us-didnt-have-income-taxes-until-191/

  95. Pixy Misaon 21 Dec 2016 at 8:41 pm

    Oops, only one year; they updated the newer article, not the older one.

  96. tmac57on 26 Dec 2016 at 7:55 pm

    Pixy Misa- So based off that lone example that changed from ‘Mostly True ‘ to ‘Half True’ which they belatedly corrected themselves, what do you think of your claim against Politifact of:

    “Politifact aren’t reliable at all; they’ve given different truth ratings to the same statement made by different people. Factcheck seems better; I’ve seen accusations of bias, but not the sort of clear documented evidence that exists for Politifact.”

    Does that broad claim hold water?

    You probably won’t see this, so I will answer for you…”No, it was a bullshit claim.”

  97. tmac57on 26 Dec 2016 at 7:59 pm

    And if it were not clear that fake news can cause potential harm to society, comes this example today:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ae3Wy9CoPso

    Can you imagine if some BS claim from Limbaugh or Info Wars managed to ignite a nuclear attack? Sounds crazy right? Maybe not so crazy after all.

  98. tb29607on 27 Dec 2016 at 8:49 am

    I resist political discussions as much as possible because people rarely if ever change their mind but the politifact claim of Pixy Misa is not completely without merit.

    A 5 year timeline to correct different ratings of the same statement at least shows they have slack standards when it comes to self monitoring.

    In the same time period as the obvious Democratic deceptions regarding Benghazi, IRS targeting, “you can keep your health plan”, and taxes won’t go up for anyone making less than $250k:
    a George Mason University study found that Politifact rated Republic statements as lies 3 times as often as Democratic statements.

    Given the GMU study timing and results, I have a hard time believing Politifact is reliable and unbiased.

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