Blog, Media + Politics, Politics

Fake News Is the Result of Fake Inquiry.

Originally published June 28, 2017 on The Huffington Post

The hallmark of rational inquiry is that nothing is accepted as a valid claim without well-founded evidence both to support and validate the claim. In stark contrast, Fake News is nothing but bald assertions based on little if any evidence.

Those who assert that there are “alternate facts” that support what they want to believe don’t understand the nature of valid inquiry. Yes, different theories are not only compatible with different facts, but are needed to unearth them. The point is that in order to assess the validity of one’s facts, one has to be able to assess the theories that are used to collect one’s facts in the first place.

Ever since the great philosopher Immanuel Kant, philosophers have understood that one can’t collect any facts without having presupposed some theory about the phenomenon that underlies the facts. Otherwise, facts by themselves make no sense. Indeed, the question always is, “Why are these particular facts a true representative of the phenomenon of interest?”

In short, Fake News is the result of Fake Inquiry. Those who blather about Fake News understand little of valid inquiry. Indeed, they are generally contemptuous of it.

Blog, Media + Politics

Fake News: The Product Of Fake Inquiry

Originally published 12/16/2016 on the Huffington Post

Fake news is due primarily to the serious loss of trust in established institutions. Far too many have abandoned traditional ways of arriving at the “truth.” Since “truth” is fundamental to the issue, let me analyze fake news from a philosophical perspective.

One of the preeminent ways of acquiring valid knowledge is by means of expert consensus (historically known as empiricism). “Truth” is that with which a group of independent, well-qualified experts agree. More generally, it’s the average of independent data, observations, etc. The tighter the agreement between the data, experts, etc., the more that the average is regarded as the “best approximation of the truth.”

For example, the “body of ‘reputable scientists worldwide’” is in strong agreement that human activities are largely responsible for global warming. Thus, that humans are responsible for global warming is essentially settled.

Those who are susceptible to fake news—especially conspiracy theories—generally start with a set of “preconceived truths such as “one can’t trust the biased news media, etc.” These “truths” are so strongly held that they are incontrovertible. One then works backwards to find sources that unequivocally support one’s predetermined views. Instead of using independent journalists who are experts in seeking out facts and counter checking them meticulously, one gravitates—indeed, seeks out— instead towards groups of partisan advocates, i.e., “favored experts.”

Well-known cognitive biases are paramount in both forming and in confirming one’s favored beliefs. Confirmation bias—deliberately searching out those sources that support one’s favored conclusions—is predominant. So is cognitive closure. One’s preferred truths are impervious to modification.

With the growth of social media, one cannot counter fake news merely by presenting scientific evidence and engaging in reasoned argument. Scientific evidence and reasoned arguments are generally rejected. Instead, one needs friendly, trusted faces that can embed scientific evidence in compelling stories.

If social media were truly responsible, it would deliberately develop sites that were devoted to countering fake news. It would also hire editors to ferret out fake news. In addition, it would employ reputable scholars to test what’s most effective in countering fake news.

We’re naïve if we think that “scientific facts” alone will counter fake news. It wouldn’t exist if it didn’t fulfill deep emotional needs.

To respond to such needs, we need to bring Jon Stewart out of retirement to host a new show along the lines of Fake News Exposes! Stephen Colbert is expert enough to take on the job as well!

In the end, fake news is anything but a joke.