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How to Be a Smart Consumer of News

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In this lecture, I introduce several common cognitive biases and logical fallacies, explain how to identify fake news, and suggest steps that can be taken to enhance one's ability to be a smart consumer of news.

Published in: News & Politics
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How to Be a Smart Consumer of News

  1. 1. How to be a Smart Consumer of News: Identifying cognitive biases, logical fallacies, and fake news Prof. Josh Gellers University of North Florida
  2. 2. Criticism v. Critical Thinking Criticism: • Finding fault in something • Often directed at someone • Sometimes driven by emotion Critical Thinking: • Making a judgment based on questioning and analysis • Identifies underlying assumptions and biases • You present reasoning and evidence 2
  3. 3. Cognitive Biases • Confirmation Bias: – Tendency to seek out information that agrees with our existing beliefs • Out-group Homogeneity Effect: – Tendency to view others as more similar to each other than members of one’s own group • Blind-spot Bias: – Tendency to see biases in others but not yourself Example: “I only watch CNN/Fox News because that’s the only news source that presents the truth.” Example: “All liberals/conservatives are the same, but my group is diverse.” Example: “Everyone is biased except me. I am capable of being completely objective.” 3
  4. 4. Logical Fallacies • Strawman: – Misrepresenting someone’s argument to make it easier to attack. • Red Herring: – Something that misleads or distracts from a relevant or important issue. • Ad Hominem: – Attacking a person’s character or personal traits in an attempt to undermine their argument. Example: “You think we should raise taxes until every American is homeless.” Example: “How can you support putting troops into Syria when our cities need better schools?” Example: “You’re just an egghead professor so I can’t believe anything you say.” Example: Democratic Primary Debate Example: Republican Primary Debate 4
  5. 5. Fake News • Information posing as news that is fabricated and/or exaggerated 5 NOT A REAL NEWSPAPER!
  6. 6. Fake News During the Election 6 Source: BuzzFeed News
  7. 7. How to Spot Fake Newz • 1) Read the URL: – Note the unusual endings, which can include — but are not limited to — .co, .info, .net, etc. • 2) Go beyond the headline: – Look up authors’ names to verify whether they really are who they say they are and look at who is quoted, cited or mentioned in the story. • 3) Check the sources: – Search for the data referred to in the article, and assess whether it was interpreted fairly. (Snopes) 7
  8. 8. Clickbait • Content, especially that of a sensational or provocative nature, whose main purpose is to attract attention and draw visitors to a particular web page. Addictinginfo.org (very left) 8
  9. 9. Consider the Original Source EPA Report (2016, p. 2): “The available data and information allowed us to qualitatively describe factors that affect the frequency or severity of impacts at the local level. However, significant data gaps and uncertainties in the available data prevented us from calculating or estimating the national frequency of impacts on drinking water resources from activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle.” Pacific Standard Magazine (leans left) The National Interest (leans right) 9
  10. 10. Ideological Spectrum of News 10 Source: Vanessa Otero
  11. 11. Questioning Convention • Case Study: The Story of 98.6⁰F (Freakonomics Podcast) • Should you challenge existing convention? YES • Bad Motivation: All doctors are biased! It’s a Big Pharma conspiracy! End of discussion! • Good Motivation: Is this number correct? How did doctors identify it? Let’s do research! • What you should do: Question, replicate, experiment, seek valid evidence 11 Call bias on all the things!
  12. 12. What can you do? • 1) Follow legitimate news sources staffed with professional journalists. • 2) When you read an article, try to find the same story in another news outlet you don’t normally read. • 3) Don’t share something you haven’t read and vetted yourself. • 4) Question everything, from news articles to professors, doctors, lawyers, scientists, politicians, and journalists! • 5) Be prepared to critically assess claims and evaluate evidence. 12

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