from the just-look-at-the-comments-below dept.
Americans are "under siege" from disinformation designed to confuse the public about the threat of climate change, Nasa's former chief scientist has said.
Speaking to the Guardian, Ellen Stofan, who left the US space agency in December, said that a constant barrage of half-truths had left many Americans oblivious to the potentially dire consequences of continued carbon emissions, despite the science being unequivocal.
"We are under siege by fake information that's being put forward by people who have a profit motive," she said, citing oil and coal companies as culprits. "Fake news is so harmful because once people take on a concept it's very hard to dislodge it."
During the past six months, the US science community has woken up to this threat, according to Stofan, and responded by ratcheting up efforts to communicate with the public at the grassroots level as well as in the mainstream press.
"The harder part is this active disinformation campaign," she said before her appearance at Cheltenham Science Festival this week. "I'm always wondering if these people honestly believe the nonsense they put forward. When they say 'It could be volcanoes' or 'the climate always changes'... to obfuscate and to confuse people, it frankly makes me angry."
Stofan added that while "fake news" is frequently characterised as a problem in the right-leaning media, she saw evidence of an "erosion of people's ability to scrutinise information" across the political spectrum. "All of us have a responsibility," she said. "There's this attitude of 'I read it on the internet therefore it must be true'."
No editorial comment included.
FiveThirtyEight is covering the efficacy of fact-checking and other methods to combat the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Fact-checking, after the fact, is better than nothing, it turns out. There are some common factors in the times when it has been done successfully:
Political scientists Ethan Porter and Thomas J. Wood conducted an exhaustive battery of surveys on fact-checking, across more than 10,000 participants and 13 studies that covered a range of political, economic and scientific topics. They found that 60 percent of respondents gave accurate answers when presented with a correction, while just 32 percent of respondents who were not given a correction expressed accurate beliefs. That’s pretty solid proof that fact-checking can work.
But Porter and Wood have found, alongside many other fact-checking researchers, some methods of fact-checking are more effective than others. Broadly speaking, the most effective fact checks have this in common:
- They are from highly credible sources (with extra credit for those that are also surprising, like Republicans contradicting other Republicans or Democrats contradicting other Democrats).
- They offer a new frame for thinking about the issue (that is, they don’t simply dismiss a claim as “wrong” or “unsubstantiated”).
- They don’t directly challenge one’s worldview and identity.
- They happen early, before a false narrative gains traction.
It is as much about psychology as actually rebutting the disinformation because factors like partisanship and worldview have strong effects, and it is hard to reach people inside their social control media echo chambers from an accurate source they will accept.
[Though often incorrectly attributed to Mark Twain, one is reminded of the adage: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes”. --Ed.]
(2020) Nearly Half of Twitter Accounts Pushing to Reopen America May be Bots
(2019) Russians Engaging in Ongoing 'Information Warfare,' FBI Director Says
(2019) How Fake News Spreads Like a Real Virus
(2019) More and More Countries are Mounting Disinformation Campaigns Online
(2019) At Defcon, Teaching Disinformation Campaigns Is Child's Play
(2018) Why You Stink at Fact-Checking
(2017) Americans Are “Under Siege” From Disinformation
(2015) Education Plus Ideology Exaggerates Rejection of Reality