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Misinformation and Propaganda

Misinformation and Propaganda

People are often misinformed about things. Sometimes they obtain that bad information from false or misleading media coverage; sometimes that media coverage is deliberately false. And there’s a fine line between media coverage that seeks to frame issues appropriately and coverage that’s propagandistic.

Propagandistic media coverage is bad, spreading false information deliberately or carelessly is bad, misleading people is bad, and it’s unfortunate that voters (and, frankly, elite policymakers) often make important decisions operating under misconceptions.


286 reads

The Internet Makes Us Better Informed

The Internet Makes Us Better Informed

Accusing other people of being misinformed is easy since the stupidity of others will always be more evident than our own blind spots.

Thanks to the internet, now we can:

  • Read many abstracts of new academic research, read some actual papers, and maintain a vast storehouse of links.
  • Directly access think tank output on policy issues, as well as the running commentary from think tankers and university scholars on the issues that they study.
  • Look up anything that we are curious about. 


212 reads

People Getting More Aware

People Getting More Aware

 A survey from the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that in 2006, only 33 percent of people could correctly identify the three branches of government. By 2021, that was up to 56 percent. It’s also a powerful reminder that a huge share of the population doesn’t pay any attention at all to politics and government. A broader survey of political knowledge from the American National Election Survey shows no change in civic awareness except perhaps a small rise since the 1990s in knowledge of which party controls the majority in Congress.


119 reads

Facebook Really Is Bad For You!

Facebook Really Is Bad For You!

If you give people a cash incentive to turn off their Facebook account, they spend more time watching TV but also more time socializing with friends and family. This leads to an increase in their subjective well-being (i.e., they’re happier) and generates “a large persistent reduction in post-experiment Facebook use.”

People struggle to go cold turkey. But once they do, they generally like it. So what about misinformation? It turns out that getting offline “reduced both factual news knowledge and political polarization.”


126 reads

Normal People Vs Crazy People

Normal People Vs Crazy People

A normal person can tell you lots of factual information about his life, his work, his neighborhood, and his hobbies but very little about the FDA clinical trial process or the moon landing. But do you know who knows a ton about the moon landing? Crazy people who think it’s fake. They don’t have crank opinions because they are misinformed, they have tons and tons of moon-related factual information because they’re cranks. 


133 reads

Anti-Vaccine Sentiment Isn’t New

Anti-Vaccine Sentiment Isn’t New

A lot of people know that the licensing of the polio vaccine in the 1950s was widely greeted with celebratory headlines and the ringing of church bells. A lot of people also know that as part of a pro-vaccination effort led by the March of Dimes, Elvis Presley got vaccinated on camera for the Ed Sullivan show.

The announcement came on April 12, 1955, and Elvis went on TV in October of 1956. Eighteen months after authorization, vaccine uptake was still slow, and that was after a much longer development process.


102 reads

The Deeper Issue Of Trust: Expert Views Gone Wrong

The Deeper Issue Of Trust: Expert Views Gone Wrong

There is fundamentally no way anyone could be unaware that the bulk of public health and medical professionals say the vaccines are safe and effective. The anti-vax stance isn’t misinformed about this reality; it simply asserts that public health and medical professionals are bad and you shouldn’t listen to them.


189 reads

Truth Is a Moving Target

Truth Is a Moving Target

Discerning the truth is hard, and it requires debate and dissent. Functional expert communities and well-run journalism institutions are open to new information, to changing their minds, and to correcting the record.

Our overall level of public health knowledge is improving rather than getting worse. People take the health risks of smoking much more seriously, and compliance with seatbelt rules is high even though practical enforcement is weak. Remember: Seatbelt mandates were very controversial when they were first introduced, taking years to be fully accepted.


87 reads

Information and Polarization

Information and Polarization

The thing that really has increased is polarization and the accompanying “everything is about everything” totalizing political conflict.

Polarization seems more likely a consequence of good information than bad. This creates a lot of very real problems for a political system that is not built to operate with highly organized, highly ideological political parties. But misinformation doesn’t seem to be a significant contributor to it. If anything, things are getting harder because information has gotten better.


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