Inoculation theory: Using misinformation to fight misinformation | The Conversation

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A shot of fake news now and your defenses are raised in the future?

John Cook, George Mason University

As a psychologist researching misinformation, I focus on reducing its influence. Essentially, my goal is to put myself out of a job. The Conversation

Recent developments indicate that I haven’t been doing a very good job of it. Misinformation, fake news and “alternative facts” are more prominent than ever. The Oxford Dictionary named “post-truth” as the 2016 word of the year. Science and scientific evidence have been under assault.

Fortunately, science does have a means to protect itself, and it comes from a branch of psychological research known as inoculation theory. This borrows from the logic of vaccines: A little bit of something bad helps you resist a full-blown case. In my newly published research, I’ve tried exposing people to a weak form of misinformation in order to inoculate them against the real thing – with promising results.

Two ways misinformation damages

Misinformation is being generated and disseminated at prolific rates. A recent study comparing arguments against climate science versus policy arguments against action on climate found that science denial is on the relative increase. And recent research indicates these types of effort have an impact on people’s perceptions and science literacy.

A recent study led by psychology researcher Sander van der Linden found that misinformation about climate change has a significant impact on public perceptions about climate change.

The misinformation they used in their experiment was the most shared climate article in 2016. It’s a petition, known as the Global Warming Petition Project, featuring 31,000 people with a bachelor of science or higher, who signed a statement saying humans aren’t disrupting climate. This single article lowered readers’ perception of scientific consensus. The extent that people accept there’s a scientific consensus about climate change is what researchers refer to as a “gateway belief,” influencing attitudes about climate change such as support for climate action.

At the same time that van der Linden was conducting his experiment in the U.S., I was on the other side of the planet in Australia conducting my own research into the impact of misinformation. By coincidence, I used the same myth, taking verbatim text from the Global Warming Petition Project. After showing the misinformation, I asked people to estimate the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming, in order to measure any effect.

I found similar results, with misinformation reducing people’s perception of the scientific consensus. Moreover, the misinformation affected some more than others. The more politically conservative a person was, the greater the influence of the misinformation.

Response to misinformation about climate change.
Cook et al. (2017), CC BY-ND

This gels with other research finding that people interpret messages, whether they be information or misinformation, according to their preexisting beliefs. When we see something we like, we’re more likely to think that it’s true and strengthen our beliefs accordingly. Conversely, when we encounter information that conflicts with our beliefs, we’re more likely to discredit the source.

However, there is more to this story. Beyond misinforming people, misinformation has a more insidious and dangerous influence. In the van der Linden study, when people were presented with both the facts and misinformation about climate change, there was no net change in belief. The two conflicting pieces of information canceled each other out.

Fact and “alternative fact” are like matter and antimatter. When they collide, there’s a burst of heat followed by nothing. This reveals the subtle way that misinformation does damage. It doesn’t just misinform. It stops people believing in facts. Or as Garry Kasporov eloquently puts it, misinformation “annihilates truth.”

Science’s answer to science denial

The assault on science is formidable and, as this research indicates, can be all too effective. Fittingly, science holds the answer to science denial.

Inoculation theory takes the concept of vaccination, where we are exposed to a weak form of a virus in order to build immunity to the real virus, and applies it to knowledge. Half a century of research has found that when we are exposed to a “weak form of misinformation,” this helps us build resistance so that we are not influenced by actual misinformation.

Inoculating text requires two elements. First, it includes an explicit warning about the danger of being misled by misinformation. Second, you need to provide counterarguments explaining the flaws in that misinformation.

In van der Linden’s inoculation, he pointed out that many of the signatories were fake (for instance, a Spice Girl was falsely listed as a signatory), that 31,000 represents a tiny fraction (less than 0.3 percent) of all U.S. science graduates since 1970 and that less than 1 percent of the signatories had expertise in climate science.

In my recently published research, I also tested inoculation but with a different approach. While I inoculated participants against the Petition Project, I didn’t mention it at all. Instead, I talked about the misinformation technique of using “fake experts” – people who convey the impression of expertise to the general public but having no actual relevant expertise.

I found that explaining the misinformation technique completely neutralized the misinformation’s influence, without even mentioning the misinformation specifically. For instance, after I explained how fake experts have been utilized in past misinformation campaigns, participants weren’t swayed when confronted by the fake experts of the Petition Project. Moreover, the misinformation was neutralized across the political spectrum. Whether you’re conservative or liberal, no one wants to be deceived by misleading techniques.

Putting inoculation into practice

Inoculation is a powerful and versatile form of science communication that can be used in a number of ways. My approach has been to mesh together the findings of inoculation with the cognitive psychology of debunking, developing the Fact-Myth-Fallacy framework.

Denial101x lecture on debunking myths.

This strategy involves explaining the facts, followed by introducing a myth related to those facts. At this point, people are presented with two conflicting pieces of information. You reconcile the conflict by explaining the technique that the myth uses to distort the fact.

We used this approach on a large scale in a free online course about climate misinformation, Making Sense of Climate Science Denial. Each lecture adopted the Fact-Myth-Fallacy structure. We started by explaining a single climate fact, then introduced a related myth, followed by an explanation of the fallacy employed by the myth. This way, while explaining the key facts of climate change, we also inoculated students against 50 of the most common climate myths.

Denial101x lectures adhering to Fact-Myth-Fallacy structure.
Denial101x, CC BY-ND

For example, we know we are causing global warming because we observe many patterns in climate change unique to greenhouse warming. In other words, human fingerprints are observed all over our climate. However, one myth argues that climate has changed naturally in the past before humans; therefore, what’s happening now must be natural also. This myth commits the fallacy of jumping to conclusions (or non sequitur), where the premise does not lead to the conclusion. It’s like finding a dead body with a knife poking out of its back and arguing that people have died of natural causes in the past, so this death must have been of natural causes also.

Science has, in a moment of frankness, informed us that throwing more science at people isn’t the full answer to science denial. Misinformation is a reality that we can’t afford to ignore – we can’t be in denial about science denial. Rather, we should see it as an educational opportunity. Addressing misconceptions in the classroom is one of the most powerful ways to teach science.

It turns out the key to stopping science denial is to expose people to just a little bit of science denial.

John Cook, Research Assistant Professor, Center for Climate Change Communication, George Mason University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Alexis Sanchez – Chile v Venezuela 2017

So good I had to watch the replay several times to appreciate the skill.

Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal vs Hungary 2017

Always thought he was a bit of a show pony but these two goals against Hungary are out the top drawer.

What makes a good life?

What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life? If you think it’s fame and money, you’re not alone – but, according to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, you’re mistaken. As the director of a 75-year-old study on adult development, Waldinger has unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction. In this talk, he shares three important lessons learned from the study as well as some practical, old-as-the-hills wisdom on how to build a fulfilling, long life.

Hat tip to Barry Ritholz

Golf: Amazing chipping

Tribute to Joost van der Westhuizen

South African sportsman Joost van der Westhuizen was struck down by motor neuron disease in 2011. He died, age 45, on 6 February 2017.

Here is a tribute from his niece, Sumari Botha.

Jia Jiang: What I learned from 100 days of rejection

Lovely TED talk by Jia Jiang

Markus Fischer: A robot that flies like a bird

Plenty of robots can fly — but none can fly like a real bird. That is, until Markus Fischer and his team at Festo built SmartBird, a large, lightweight robot, modeled on a seagull, that flies by flapping its wings.

Happiness, stress, and age: How the U-curve varies across people and places | Brookings Institution

From Carol Graham and Julia Ruiz at Brookings Institution:

…Numerous studies have found recurrent patterns between happiness and life satisfaction (while the terms are often used inter-changeably, the latter is a better-specified question) and important experiences such as employment, marital status, and/or earnings. These, in turn, lead to differences in investment profiles, productivity, voting incentives, and attitudes toward health (Graham, Eggers, and Sukhtankar, 2004; DeNeve and Oswald, 2012; De Neve et al., 2013).

Among these relationships, the one between age and happiness—often referred to as “the U-curve”—is particularly striking due to its consistency across individuals, countries, and cultures (Blanchflower and Oswald, 2007; Steptoe, Deaton and Stone, 2015; Graham and Pettinato, 2002). Happiness declines with age for about two decades from early adulthood up until roughly the middle-age years, and then turns upward and increases with age. Although the exact shape differs across countries, the bottom of the curve (or, the nadir of happiness) ranges from 40 to 60 plus years old. Blanchflower and Oswald (2016) find that some markers of ill-being, such as reported mental health and the use of anti-depressants, meanwhile, display inverse patterns, and turn down (as opposed to up) at roughly the same age range in the U.S. and Britain.

Further research is needed to confirm that the bottom of the U-curve coincides with teenage children 😉

Source: Happiness, stress, and age: How the U-curve varies across people and places | Brookings Institution

Valley of a Thousand Hills

I tried this as a test of Vimeo, but don’t you just love the attitude of these young Zulu kids. Few possessions other than a skateboard (most likely donated) but not a worry in the world.

Elon Musk’s Next Plan |

By Kevin J. Ryan:

During Tuesday’s SolarCity earnings call, Elon Musk hopped in to let the world know what the company he co-founded plans to do next: create solar roofs. Not solar panels–entire roofs.

….”The point of all this was, and remains, accelerating the advent of sustainable energy,” Musk wrote in his recent Tesla “Master Plan Part Deux” blog post, “so that we can imagine far into the future and life is still good.”

Now, that plan is beginning to crystallize a bit more. Should Tesla close its $2.6 billion deal to buy SolarCity, it will bring Musk’s vision a little closer to reality–especially the part that entails creating cars that get their energy from solar-powered batteries.

A home that powers itself and perhaps the cars parked in its garage–and in the process, helps the world lessen its dependency on fossil fuels in a very big way–might not be that far off. And it might not look that bad, either.

Source: Elon Musk’s Next Plan: Do for Roofs What He Did for Cars |

High speed rail plan still needs to prove economic benefits will outweigh costs

Double-decker TGV leaving the Gare de Lyon of Paris

Double-decker TGV leaving the Gare de Lyon of Paris. Source: Alno

Geoffrey Clifton, University of Sydney

The CLARA private consortium claims a high speed rail network between Sydney and Melbourne could be paid for at no cost to the government through a technique known as value capture. What is still not clear is whether there will be enough value created by the project to capture in order to pay for the project.

Value capture is well established techniques used by governments to offset some of the costs of new transport infrastructure, for instance the taxes paid on apartments built near a new train station help to offset the cost of the transport investment. The taxes paid by warehouses or factories built near new freeways are another good example of value capture.

CLARA’s proposal is that the high speed rail can be paid for by purchasing land cheaply in regional New South Wales and Victoria then developing a string of new towns alongside the High Speed Railway. The sale of land would fund the High Speed Railway’s construction and the new residents would provide patronage for the railway.

This form of development was once common place with the suburban railways of London and the urban railways of Tokyo and Hong Kong being the most famous examples. However, this sort of value capture by private investors is much rarer today and unprecedented on this scale.

The first stage proposal involves a A$13 billion link from Melbourne to the Greater Shepparton region of Northern Victoria, the full link to Sydney with a branch to Canberra would cost many times this much. The CLARA consortium is claiming the exact figure as commercial in confidence, but a cost of around $200 billion has been suggested in the media.

CLARA haven’t released the full business case for the network but value of the project can be assessed by its benefits and whether or not the project will capture them.

High speed rail creates benefits for two types of travellers, longer distance commuters and intercity travellers. Previous proposals for high speed rail have floundered in Australia because the benefits to intercity travellers have just not been enough to justify the costs of developing and running it.

Australian cities are just too far apart for a high speed rail to be competitive on travel time and fares with aviation. Perhaps this will change over the 40 years that it will take to build the network but there is no evidence that this is happening at the moment.

Unlike previous plans, CLARA is emphasising the potential of the longer distance commuter market (e.g. Canberra or Goulburn to Sydney). There is a developing market for commuting by High Speed Rail in the UK amongst other countries.

There is no doubt that high speed rail would be faster over these sorts of distances than the alternatives (ordinary rail, coaches, private car) although it might be a challenge to schedule high speed intercity services alongside slower commuter services and building dedicated high speed rail lines into the Central Business Districts of Sydney and Melbourne will be very expensive. These travellers will gain benefits from a faster service and also from being able to purchase houses in more affordable regional areas.

Land prices are a capitalisation of the benefits that accrue to people who use that land. In the case of residential land, it reflects the benefits to be had in terms of access to schools, jobs, recreation facilities, etc.

Improved transport services reduce the time it takes to get to existing jobs and activities plus makes it possible to travel to additional jobs and activities within a reasonable time and, finally, encourages new jobs and activities to be created through the process of economies of scale and agglomeration.

Some of these benefits accrue to the travellers, others to the owners of the businesses who can hire from a bigger pool of potential employees and service a bigger pool of customers. Because of these benefits travellers and businesses bid up the price of land in places near the improved transport services thus sharing the benefits with the land owners (and with governments in the form of the taxes paid on income, property transactions and developments). It is this increase in land that CLARA hopes to tap into to fund the new high speed rail.

This project will only be successful if the new rail service generates enough benefits and this will only happen if people really will be prepared to pay higher fares for high speed rail or prefer lower fares on traditional train services from cities closer in (i.e. Wollongong). If not, will governments have to ban development in other cities to force people to move to CLARA’s townships in order to support the developers of the HSR?

Value capture is a rediscovered form of financing major projects that could prove an innovative source of funds but it does not remove the need for a project’s benefits to exceed its costs.

The Conversation

Geoffrey Clifton, Lecturer in Transport and Logistics Management, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Hat tip to Macrobusiness.

Political Correctness and reverse intimidation | On Line Opinion

From Michael Keane:

Having to continually tread on eggshells for fear of doing something that will ruin your life, family or career, even something that no-one could ever reasonably predict would be wrong, is a well-known form of intimidation and causes chronic psychological torment. We could use the jargon of Human Factors Engineering or behavioural psychology, but it’s obvious. We’ve heard of reverse discrimination, but political correctness is causing a sort of reverse intimidation and is damaging both individuals and society.

….. The Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court famously warned that if you want to stop racial discrimination then you have to stop discriminating on the base of race. In other words, most 21st century Australians are well and truly over race. But if you continually discriminate on the basis of race with racial quotas, separate flags, separate clinics, separate scholarships, this will breed racial resentment…..

The same applies to all forms of discrimination, whether by race, gender, religion or sexual orientation.

Source: Political Correctness and reverse intimidation – On Line Opinion – 6/6/2016

Richard Turnbull earns place in South African coaching hall of fame

Congratulations to a good friend and great human being for his induction in the South African coaching hall of fame. Richard Turnbull (pictured above [left] with middle-distance runner Matthews Temane), with a background in exercise physiology, achieved outstanding success as an athletics coach in the 1980s and 1990s. He also served as fitness coach, helping the Springbok rugby team to prepare for the 1995 world cup.

Emigrating to Australia in the 1990s Richard settled in Orange, NSW, where he again ventured into rugby, coaching the local Emus to four straight Central West Rugby Union premierships.

In a golden era for middle- and long-distance running in South Africa, Richard coached some outstanding black athletes (like Willie Motolo and Matthews Temane) who ironically were prevented from competing in the Olympics because of apartheid.

Source: Going the distance: Turnbull earns place in South African coaching hall of fame | Central Western Daily

Seve Ballesteros: The Short Game

The best golf instruction video ever made — from the maestro himself.

Paddleboarding with whales [video]

Paddle Boarding with whales in Esperance, Western Australia.

Self-taught Kenyan wins gold medal in javelin

Julius Yego winner 92.72m WL Men’s Javelin Final | IAAF World Athletics Championships BEIJING 2015

Read more at Quartz

What are we afraid of? Universal healthcare in market-orientated health systems

From the new IEA (Institute of Economic Affairs) report on the UK’s NHS (National Health System) by Kristian Niemietz 2 Apr 2015:


…….The NHS is often unduly eulogised for minor achievements, because it is being held to unrealistically low standards. The NHS should not be compared with the state of healthcare as it was prior to 1948, or with a hypothetical situation in which all healthcare costs had to be paid out of pocket. Rather, it should be compared with the most realistic alternative: the social health insurance (SHI) systems of Continental Europe, especially the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany.

SHI systems are far more market-oriented, competitive and patient/ consumer-driven than the NHS. They show a much greater plurality in both provision and financing, usually with a mix of providers (public, private for-profit and private non-profit) and a mix of payers (for-profit insurance, non-profit insurance, out-of-pocket payments, supplementary insurance). For example, in Germany, fewer than half of hospitals are government-owned.

SHI systems still redistribute from the healthy to the sick, and from the rich to the poor. This happens mostly through risk-structure compensation schemes, which redistribute from insurers with a high proportion of ‘good risks’ to those with a high proportion of ‘bad risks’ and thereby make ‘cherry-picking’ of healthier clients economically unviable. Low-income earners also receive demand-side subsidies to help them pay their health insurance premiums.

SHI countries consistently outperform the NHS on measures of health outcomes, quality of healthcare provision and efficiency. Cancer and stroke survival rates are higher, fewer patients suffer from complications after a hospital operation, and the number of deaths that could have been prevented through better healthcare (‘mortality amenable to healthcare’) is lower. On the latter measure, the UK could avoid at least 14 unnecessary deaths per 100,000 inhabitants each year if it rose to the standards of the SHI countries.

SHI systems do not just outperform the NHS in terms of average outcomes, they also achieve more equitable outcomes. The extensive use of market mechanisms does not have to conflict with the aim of reducing health inequalities. According to reasonable indicators of equity, the performance of the NHS is about average amongst developed countries; the performance of SHI systems are amongst the best in the world.

The only visible advantage of the NHS model over SHI models is that it is better at containing costs. However, part of the difference is explained by the fact that SHI systems make it much easier for patients to top up and/or upgrade statutory healthcare privately if they wish. NHS patients are not allowed to do this……..

Read more at What are we afraid of? Universal healthcare in market-orientated health systems