SocraticGadfly: 'Vaccinate' against misinformation? We think not

January 20, 2023

'Vaccinate' against misinformation? We think not

This Nielsen Lab piece crystallizes thoughts I've had for some time. Contra the fact checkers, the Facebook and (pre-Smelling Musky) Twitter reporting, etc., first, misinformation isn't as powerful as claimed. Second, neither is information.

And, that relates to the idea that you can't "vaccinate" against misinformation.

Unfortunately, that idea is part of what's apparently behind centrist liberal Kevin Kruse's new book. "Myth America" (nice pun) by him and Julian Zelizer, gets roasted on Slate. The authors of that piece report various problems with the book. 

The biggest problem, they say, is claiming that misinformation is the primary problem behind our current tribalism.

One is claiming misinfo is exclusively far right, to the degree the book authors give a pass to Never Trumper Rethugs like Charlie Sykes of The Bulwark.

Two is that by claiming Rethugs are anti-regulation, it ignores neoliberal Democrats. Sadly, someone like Naomi Oreskes plays along in her essay in the book. That's even as, re her and writing on climate change, Democraps fetishize "market solutions."

Three is that it's only Rethugs saying things like "socialism is un-American." Easily refuted, as the authors do. And, as half of House Democrats recently did!

And, yeah, they're right that Kruse and Zelizer are writing this for the Maddow crowd.

And, here's a condensed version of my own review:

Myth America: Historians Take On the Biggest Legends and Lies About Our Past

Myth America: Historians Take On the Biggest Legends and Lies About Our Past by Kevin M. Kruse
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Howlers include one from Joshua Zeitz, in his chapter on "The Great Society." He notes that, in her campaign memoir, Hillary Clinton says she came very close to proposing a basic income. Sure she did, but Zeitz appears to take this claim at face value.

Some chapters are good, like the one on "good protests" and the one on "police violence." Others are ... OK. Akil Reed Amar's chapter is good for noting "democracy" and "republic" were used interchangably back in the day. He doth protest too much about Madison not being "The Father of the Constitution." As I've understood it, Madison got that moniker from the Bill of Rights about as much as Philadelphia 1787. Besides, liberal originalism is warmed-over shite. Immerwahr's chapter on American imperialism is of course good, but — most of the Kruse target audience, both neoliberal Dems and never-Trumper Republicans — likely either rejects the idea, or says that an "American exceptionalism" empire is different. Speaking of?

Bell's chapter on the history of American exceptionalism? I didn't realize the idea originally came from Stalin, and has transmuted. That said, the idea that Trump rejects American exceptionalism? He may reject the phraseology, but the idea? No, he's totally behind it.

Sarah Churchwell's America First chapter gets Henry Cabot Lodge wrong and thus itself perpetuates a myth. He was OK with the League of Nations as long as the Versailles Treaty included the well-known "Lodge reservations" — which Wilson refused to accept. He was NOT William Randolph Hearst on this. She also seems to state that Pat Buchanan created the Reform Party. He hijacked it, of course, but didn't create it.

Per the Salon link? Yes, Slickster Bill Clinton arguably DID do more to peddle neoliberalism in America than did Milton Friedman. Oreskes and Conway miss this, peddling deregulation and similar issues as Republican-only.

Summary? If your voting history is Bernie Sanders or leftward, you can take a pass on this book and not miss a lot. 

Sadly, on Twitter, Nathan J. Robinson was touting an interview with Oreskes and Conway recently. I sent him the link to my review. And, speaking of? I offered some degree of defense of him on the union-busting charges a year ago, based on broader facts, but since then, he's shown "slippage" in other ways.

View all my reviews

Update: This Smithsonian piece, which looks in-depth at things like people seeing Monticello updated with a detailed history of Thomas Jefferson's enslaving and what slavery was like there, then the vast majority of them not remembering any of this, show in more detail why you can't "vaccinate" against misinformation.

It's called "motivated reasoning," generally, a version of "thinking" with your emotions and your ego. If you don't want to accept that Jefferson was a fairly bad enslaver, that Bobby Lee was a harsh slave master, or other similar such things? You won't accept it. It's like the old psychological blind spot of people being told to count the number of basketball passes in a video and getting so focused on this that they ignore the person in a gorilla suit walking through the video. Only in this case, it's a much more willful blind spot, not an "attentional bias." And yes, per the likes of Daniel Wegner, subconscious intentionality is indeed possible.

I totally agree with Laurajane Smith, a professor at Australian National University. Smith, who had done studies on this, says that less than 3 percent of people in such cases have their minds changed by "conventional" new displays.

Solution? Go to those emotions:

Smith, the professor who studies visitor responses to heritage sites, told me that she thinks these sites need to shift their focus from education to emotion. Since research reveals that people aren’t going to historical sites to learn, she believes sites should “provide the resources to allow visitors to work through difficult and challenging emotions in in a way that is constructive.” As an example, Smith pointed to the Immigration Museum of Melbourne, Australia, which uses tools like an interactive simulation of a hate speech incident on a tram to guide visitors into thinking about the experience of discrimination from different points of view. This experience can be uncomfortable, but Smith insists that the heritage is not “cuddly and warm and fuzzy.” What happened in history, and what that should mean to us, is always contested.

Now, how do museums and historic sites DO that? Especially on the budget limits many generally face?

Update: Motivated reasoning is emotional reasoning, and so, preaching against misinformation is the correct approach. 

Update 3: Michael Kazin's piece on socialism is also laughable, as Slate notes. That said, since Wiki notes he's a DSA Rosey, that's WHY he makes such a laughable claim. It's also why, to put it more bluntly than my Goodreads review of his William Jennings Bryan bio, he often turd-polishes the Great Commoner.

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