Misinformation Age

In the olden thymes it was much more difficult to be misinformed than it is today, simply due to the fact that information flowed much more slowly that we see today. That meant stupid ideas and nonsense passed from person to person at the speed of foot, not the speed of light. Festus could truly believe that eating cow dung cured gout, but he was not at a university writing papers on it. Those papers were not being spread around the internet. He was simply boring his family with his crackpot ideas and maybe some neighbors.

The flip side of this, of course, is people were much less informed about the world than today for the same reasons. Literacy rates rocketed up with the advent of cheap printed material, but information still moved slowly. You can pack a lot of information in a book, but it still must be toted from one reader to another. It’s entirely possible that the newly literate of the 18th century were not much more informed about the world than the illiterate of the 15th century. Farmer John in colonial Virginia would know more about the Bible and local politics than Farmer Aethelred in the 15th century, but maybe not that much more.

We don’t think about mass misinformation very much today, but maybe we should think about it. That came to mind what I stumbled upon this posting the other day.

Women are predisposed by their genetics to have affairs as “back-up plans'” if their relationships fail, according to a research paper.

Scientists at the University of Texas say they are challenging the assumption that humans have evolved to have monogamous relationships.

The team’s research has put forward the “mate-switching-hypothesis” which says humans have evolved to keep testing their relationships and looking for better long-term options.

The senior author of the research, Dr David Buss, told the Sunday Times: “Lifelong monogamy does not characterise the primary mating patterns of humans.

“Breaking up with one partner and mating with another may more accurately characterise the common, perhaps the primary, mating strategy of humans.”

For our distant ancestors – when disease, poor diet and minimal healthcare meant that few people lived past 30 – looking for a more suitable partner was necessary, researchers assert.

Despite anecdotal claims about cheatng, no study has shown that humans are predisposed to monogamy or non-monogamy.

A study carried out by Rafael Wlodarski and a team of researchers at Oxford University looking into infidelity found a correlation between the length of a individual’s ring finger and the likelihood that they would cheat on a partner.

However, they stressed that they could not find a causal link.

I looked up the lead author and he is not a quack working on TV so this is supposed to be accepted as legitimate science. Just in case the reporter got the facts wrong, which is often the case, I looked up the source paper. The highlighted parts of the quote are the important bits. There have been studies using real science that strongly suggest humans in Europe are predisposed to monogamy. Genetic testing reveals that a tiny percentage of children are the result of adulterous relations and this is data going back centuries.

One could argue, and the paper does leave this open, that women scheme to have a ready replacement in case their husbands get eaten by a saber tooth. That’s not implausible and it would certainly show up in the gene pool as a heritable trait if it were in fact an adaptation.You could also claim that women secretly scheme to have an in-ground pool or a vacation to the beach. This sort of “research” is no longer science and well into idle speculation and propaganda.

This is also the sort of nonsense that is pleasing to the managerial elite because their religion tells them that monogamy and stable families are bad for the peasants. They may live like Victorians, but you people should give up your quaint notions of family, fidelity and morality, cause science!. This ties in with the assertion by feminists that women should have unlimited sex partners. A new movie called Bridget Jones’s Baby, which features a pregnant woman with three potential fathers of her baby, is the sort of idealized woman our betters imagine for your daughter.

That brings us back to where we started. In an age when information was scarce, misinformation was scarce. In an age where information is voluminous and moves at light speed, the same is true of the nonsense, which is much easier to produce in volume. The result is a misinformation age that erodes trust in authority because over time even the most naive grows cynical about what they see in the media. How many junk science stories like the one referenced here get posted before people think science is nonsense?

It’s not just science. The news media has collapsed under an avalanche of nonsense they created. No one believes anything they see reported. Government has approval rates in the teens. We are well into becoming a low-trust society that can only be held together by force. A big cause of that is the daily barrage of nonsense we get through the media. There used to be a time when the responsible made an effort to stem the flow of nonsense, but that’s no more. Instead, we live in a misinformation age.

It’s not going to end well.

22 thoughts on “Misinformation Age

  1. “A study carried out by Rafael Wlodarski and a team of researchers at Oxford University looking into infidelity found a correlation between the length of a individual’s ring finger and the likelihood that they would cheat on a partner.”

    It’s also somewhat known on Wall Street that successful stock or currency traders tend to have longer ring fingers: The working hypothesis is that a marginally higher level of testosterone at a time when both that finger and the risk-taking part of the brain are going through a growth spurt is responsible.

    My hand surgeon tells me that this characteristic is present in many athletes too.

  2. Is this paper a (deliberate) scam_? After all this is just ‘The Mano-sphere’ dressed up in academic jargon. Evolutionary Biology, the lead author’s specialty, is not so different from Aesop’s Fables in that it purports to explain observable behavior (some women cheat, particularly with higher status men) by reasoning backwards using a plausible frame (reproductive advantage). Thing is, these assertions are inherently untestable (can’t study proto H. Sapiens) and so have a hard time qualifying as actual ‘science’. So epistomologiccally it can be called a scam.

    IMHO, this sort of article proliferates on account of the economics of academic promotion and tenure. A person needs some number of published papers (plus kissing the PC ring) to grab hold of that sweet, sweet full professor tenure (not to mention salary) at a (semi) elite Big U. My observation is that, particularly in the social (so-called) sciences there is sort of a gentle-persons agreement not to look too closely so long as some known name is connected to it as first author. It’s a pretty safe bet that the two last authors actually wrote it.

    So you can count on it that next week there will other academic papers out with the usual chin-pulling sort of critique: Keeping the paper-mill game going, one hand washing the other, etc. IOW, to some extent the whole system is a scam. Which will continue until the money runs out, probably soon.

    Such papers get disseminated in the popular press because ‘sex sells’: Media folk gotta eat_! The journo’s involved don’t actually care about the science, in the unlikely event they could understand it.

  3. I was thinking today about the alternative press. Back in the day, the cool kids had alternative newspapers. I think the Detriot Free Press is still in business. We had the Oracle in the Bay Area, among others. And if you were a young person, that’s the place you got your news. I’m sure Hillary would have approved of the alternative press in those days. Now she has the gall to stand up and scold people for reading it.

  4. Yep, I think pretty much most consumers are accustomed to filtering all reading and watching of commerical product to first identify the “approved message” before continuing on. Where the approved message isn’t clear people get very annoyed because they feel they were conned. In the past this this was less a consideration because there was a higher level of social trust and overlap of generalised cohesive beliefs and standards. This has extended into the sciences which just demonstrates how far along we are in the communist state of mind where everything must reinforce state approved thought – or sanctions will follow.

  5. In high school I began reading the New York Times every day because of a program that subsidized the cost of a weekly subscription that was picked up at school (Good grief, I haven’t thought about this a very long time).
    I read Russell Baker, the syndicated column of Art Buchwald and many others whose names I can no longer remember. I wish there was a way to reread those worthies today and evaluate their impact. Would I still admire all their offerings as I truly did then? I suspect that I would, though politically opposite, I think they were more honest and enlightened. If I remember correctly, it cost $2.00 a week.

    Today the only thing about the NYT that I’d pay to see is the Reich-stag style fire that consumed the decayed
    remnant of what once consumed the lions share of my weekly allowance.

  6. I tend to view technology as like fire: It can warm you or burn you. In the shadow of the Information Age lies misinformation. Or, in other words, misinformation lies.

    If knowledge is power, then the problem here is two-pronged:

    1.) Lies and misrepresentations, distortions, fabrications, et al, cause people to make decisions that bring about negative (if not disastrous) consequences; with the speed at which misinformation travels today exacerbating the consequences exponentially,


    2.) Burn me once, shame on you, burn me twice, shame on me – which is another way of saying: When it’s raining BS all the time, ignoring it at the very least or, in the extreme, burying one’s head in the sand, becomes an umbrella.

    One week coffee is good for you. The next week, it is poison. The same goes for eggs and cholesterol, the effects of bovine flatulence on climate change, the viability of marine ecosystems near Fukushima and whether or not correlation implies causation when considering carnality.

    So, what does it all mean? What are we to make of it? Maybe the answer is we don’t. At least not yet. Why the rush? Maybe the problem is not the misinformation per se, but rather one’s own laziness in vetting it or the infantile impatience and desire for immediate gratification because it reinforces one’s own particular worldview.

    Indeed, if patience is a virtue, then beware the patient man. It is he who more often travels the road not taken. In my own case, that has made all the difference. It also helps to believe in something. Otherwise, you’ll fall for anything.

    • Another thought as an addendum here:

      If truth stands the “test of time”, maybe it pays to wait and see. Even if just for a bit.

      With age comes wisdom. I think I read that on the internet once.

    • People tell me I have a “charmed life”. If so, then one of the largest charms on my bracelet has been and is patience. How right you are about that! Metaphysically speaking, I’ve been a believer in something for my now-longish adult life; socially speaking, I’ve found the old verities to have served me and mine very well, so we share belief in belief as well. Kudos on your comment!

  7. God damn, another Bridget Jones movie? Aren’t they just flogging a dead horse at this point? The character got two happy endings in two separate movies that pretty much tied everything up; whats left to do?

    Some of the problem today is the system being overwhelmed by information but its also a problem of stagnation generally. Useful people get funneled into a limited system when in previous years they would have tried something out like starting a business or going into work that didn’t require the almost religious type of hoop jumping media and the academy require.

    The guy who wrote that study has to meet requirements to stay in his cushy job, part of which include having to both seem original, meet the elite social class expectations, and generate something that can be used by the media to grab attention and raise money. In a normal situation he’d realize before the paper was written that the conclusion is bunk and if that created an issue he’d move on to something else or out to a different field. But now thats not really an option so everyone goes through the motions – he writes this and pretends to believe it and the public maybe reads it and pretends its true.

  8. It would be good if low trust engendered an independence of thought, but all my experience tells me that the Narrative is embedded in the public brain like a tick. They’ve won, and because of that they don’t feel the need to be very good at what they are doing.

  9. 100 years ago marked an era widely regarded as the Golden Age of Sports.
    The individual achievements in baseball, golf, boxing, racing, etc, have all been surpassed and eclipsed since then, yet hardly an American alive does not know something about Cobb, Ruth, and so on.
    The difference was the reporting. The writers did not make themselves part of the story, they instead wrote to an audience they knew and understood, in dramatic prose that put the reader at the plate in the 9th, on the green at 18, in the corner at the bell before the last round, or in the turn before the sprint for the checkered flag.
    More than a few emigrants learned to read English from those columns. More than a few emigrants improved their English and wrote those columns.

    Now, of course, the Journalist’s Journey is the story, and the reporting they do is just the contractually obligated white noise until their next #BigThing.

    • This. Journalism blew itself apart with the New Journalism crap. Much like how poetry committed suicide with free verse.

  10. I’m tempted to call it prolefeed, but it is really much more like the constant hypnotic buzz that the subjects of Brave New World were subject to with the same goals: a population sated with sex and other cheap thrills, willing to do whatever the managerial class tells them to do.

    • I tend to think it just sort of happened. A long time ago John Derbyshire explained the mortgage crash in systemic terms. Over generations a system employing millions of scriveners evolved to process mortgages. Then all of a sudden the inlet pipe was replaced by this high tech model that flooded the system with paper. The scriveners were overwhelmed. The result was chaos that eventually led to collapse.

      That’s how I look at the mass media. All the people, systems, habits of mind, cultural traditions were designed for an age when men smoking cigarettes methodically typed out their stories and walked them over to the editor. Then the reporters were replaced with robots that could plop the library of Congress every morning on the desk of each editor. The system collapsed and we are awash in unfiltered and unvetted information. Collapse is inevitable.

      • I don’t see it in conspiratorial terms. That’s not how our managerial class works. The model they use is Y2K. At any one moment in time, dozens of opportunists are out flogging one scam* or another. Others see profit in the scam and jump on board. Very quickly, a whole industry of consultants and managers grows to offer “solutions” for the problem or opportunity. At that point, the new “industry” starts cranking out FUD to catch the attention of the media (in the case of Y2K , it was that if we re-write every program in the world to account for four- digit (decimal) years in their calculations, the entire financial system would collapse). Idiots in the media, who wouldn’t know a bit from a byte, then write stories that transmit the FUD to first, decision makers, and then Joe Six Pack. “Legitimate” firms now jump on the band wagon (in the case of Y2K, the big five accounting houses and their consulting arms were the second echelon).

        In the case of the article you quote, the researchers are probably just trying to gain some notoriety so they can get more grants, but it is the same principle. If they get enough traction, then other researchers jump into the “field,” maybe a journal of relationship studies gets funded, more money flows in, and pretty soon the whole scam is a going concern — a self-licking ice cream cone as they say.

        Like the recording of knowledge, there is nothing new in this. It’s been going on as long as there’s been commerce. Up until recently, the moral hazard of chasing a business trend was always high. If Cretan wine was the next big thing, and if you were a late entrant, then there was a real big chance that you would end up with a bunch of inventory that you would have to sell at a loss. But between the growth of the Internet, the service economy, the massive infusion of government money into markets, and the rise of the insulated, global elites, this sort of thing has become a regular pestilence rather than a business risk.

        I’m going to have use one of Wretchard’s coding analogies here. The source code has been corrupted. When that happens, what causes the system to crash is usually corrupt data stemming from memory management issues (all of the corrupt information we’re seeing lately). Time to erase the old instructions and start over… not a reboot, a remastering.

        * Most commenters would call it a scam. The scammers may or may not see it as one.

        • I tend to agree. Systems evolve over time and evolve in directions that no one could have foreseen. Newspapers shoveling their content on-line was, in retrospect, lunacy of the highest order. But, it happened. I think we are headed to a point where some new system of vetting the flow of information is inevitable, but what it is and how we get it is not obvious.

          • Z, between the chain-smoking tech troglodytes in plaid sports coats selling classified ads out of the back room and the J-school d-bags who started believing their own BS (we’re the fourth estate! we can transform the world! yipee!) it was inevitable looking back. The j-school types didn’t understand their own business model and the salesmen didn’t understand the tech risk that the j-school morons were putting them in. We’ve reached the same point at a societal level with the added insanity that the Ben Sassy’s* of the world are actually taking over the smoke filled rooms as well the front offices.

            We kind of know how these things turn out. The range of human responses* lies somewhere between the Glorious Revolution and the Bronze Age Collapse. Maybe we’ll be lucky this time.

            *I don’t know why I have such an animus towards this cat. Maybe I’m just jealous.

            **I used to tease Wretchard about his computer analogies precisely because they are so bloodless.

        • I do view it as a conspiracy of sorts and one that has earned the moniker “crony capitalism.”

          In this case, ZMan uses the example of an Academic, and I use the term very loosely, jousting for media coverage for himself, and his institution. After all, such foolish waste of time and effort is part of the ‘scam’ that makes up academia today. That no one in his circle calls him an idiot is due to the fact that they are caught up in a system that highly discourages any sort of internal criticism of one another.

          What I am getting at is the lack of courage and honor that professions have, those who work within them lack. And when someone like Dr. Drew from the CNN show speaks honestly about his medical assessment of Hillary’s condition(s), he gets canned. (More at http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-08-25/cnn-cancels-dr-drews-show-one-week-after-he-voiced-grave-concern-hillarys-health)

          This is true of the medical profession, the legal profession, the financial profession, the agricultural profession, the education profession, the science profession, etc. Look at what happened with Obamacare. Everyone knows the system is rigged and yet even with the law on the “people’s” side, no one can stop it? All those smart people, all those lawyers, especially the ones who know DC, and nothing.

          The food industry owns organizations like the FDA, University Research, International Approval agencies to give you all the wonders of chemistry which do nothing but bad things for people but sure do help the bottom line for the food conglomerates.

          As to the conspiracy, it is simply an opportunistic scenario where TPTB have a chorus line of dancing “bubbles” waiting in line to be grown and popped. All industries can’t do their thing simultaneously for that would surely be ruinous to a good thing, a rigged system. So they each take their turn milking the cow (the proles).

          The Environmentalists learned a lot from the fight against big tobacco. Well, everyone did. But that kick started them in a big way. And no one has been able to fight the Military Industrial Complex because of fear. DC really knows how to sell fear. And what we are seeing is a plethora of messages all spelling “you should be afraid” and “government will take care of you.” Yeah, right!

          Yes, it is all misinformation for nefarious ends. And as I “chat” with people I know, who are really angry that I would consider voting for Trump, I know we are a lost country. As someone here said, we will have to tear this sucker down and rewrite the source code from scratch. It is corrupted beyond repair. As much as I would like to hope that Trump could fix things, the fact that some 40% of voters will still pull the lever for someone like Hillary says it is far too late to make a difference, even if he is given a chance. In the days of old, we might disagree on how much to spend and on the methods for solving problems but now we can’t even agree on what the problems are, much less what to do about them. We are worlds apart. They want something completely different. I say we give it to them. Let them move to a place where they can create their socialist paradise, or maybe Putin is accepting immigrants. We know China is full up.

          • OMG! How did I forget Big PHARMA?? Don’t forget to add them to the list. They cross many of these so-called industries.

    • Sex is not cheap. At home or elsewhere. The in-ground pool component comes into play eventually.

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