Why bullshit is no laughing matter

Along with all the talk about fake news and the effect it may or may have not had on the election there usually comes a chuckle as if it didn’t really matter. But it does. We’re bombarded with untruths on a regular basis yet we consider ourselves experts at recognizing them. However, the fact that advertising works so well says we’re not even close to that. What to do?

Bullshit is much harder to detect when we want to agree with it. The first and most important step is to recognise the limits of our own cognition. We must be humble about our ability to justify our own beliefs. These are the keys to adopting a critical mindset – which is our only hope in a world so full of bullshit.

Journalism’s delivery system, not the coverage itself, is broken – Columbia Journalism Review

Columbia Journalism Review believes that Journalism’s delivery system, not the coverage itself, is broken.

Let me make this point through an analogy. A trial usually consists two competing legal arguments, both grounded in facts, otherwise known as evidence. What if technology suddenly allowed 50 different lawyers to present competing narratives to the jury? And what if evidence requirements were eliminated, such that some of the lawyers presented their arguments based on traditional evidentiary standards, while others felt liberated to make things up. Would we blame the jury members if they were unable to render an informed verdict?

This analogy seems plausible on the surface, but the evidence requirements part is where it falls apart. During a trial lawyers present all kinds of evidence, including some that may or may not be true. When that happens and when that untruth is detected we don’t blame the court, we blame the lawyers who presented it. Those lawyers may face civil penalties as well as penalties from their bar association both of which will affect their ability to continue to work in law.

So I offer an alternative opinion: Journalism is broken, period. It missed the transition from a heavily-controlled trickle of information via print, television and radio to an uncontrolled torrent that the end-user gets to filter. Journalists are no longer in charge of determining what’s true and false, we are. If anything, the delivery system has never worked better in human history.

Twitter: Fast, comprehensive and full of falsehoods

When a disaster occurs, Twitter is often the first to break the news. But at the same time, it’s often the source of plenty of untruths that often propagate faster then the real news and resist efforts to debunk them. But it’s possible software can detect and squash rumors almost as fast as they appear on Twitter.

It wouldn’t be perfect, of course, and wouldn’t completely replace real human watchdogs, but it could clear a lot of the noise surrounding big events and really make Twitter useful in a crisis.