An intellectual problem for those who defend freedom of expression
Amid all the concern about ‘Fake News’ and the increasing polarisation in politics, there is a psychological insight that I have seen explained and shared in many forms: when presented with a fact that contradicts a strongly held belief, people often reject the fact and double-down in their belief.
This is the Backfire Effect, a phrase coined by the American academics Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler. Here’s part of the abstract to their 2006 paper ‘When Corrections Fail‘:
Can these false or unsubstantiated beliefs about politics be corrected? Previous studies have not tested the efficacy of corrections in a realistic format. We conducted four experiments in which subjects read mock news articles that included either a misleading claim from a politician, or a misleading claim and a correction. Results indicate that corrections frequently fail to reduce misperceptions among the targeted ideological group. We also document several instances of a “backfire effect” in which corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.
Continue reading “The ‘Marketplace of Ideas’ Probably Doesn’t Exist. What Does That Mean For Free Speech?”
I watched Charlie Kaufmann’s Synecdoche, New York the other day. It is at times compelling, hilarious, and mysterious.
The story follows a theatre director, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Awarded a grant to produce a expansive artwork, he recreates scenes from his own life inside a huge warehouse. But of course, after a while, his own life revolves around producing the theatre piece… So that gets recreated inside the warehouse too. He has to recruit an actor to play himself, and eventually an actor to play the actor that plays himself! Likewise with the other important people in his life and the production. The play becomes more and more recursive, in the manner of Borges’ The Circular Ruins (a dream within a dream).
Continue reading “Synecdoche, New York and Directing our own lives”
Never have I felt as much like a sheep, a follower, an automaton, a mindless drone, a bundle of predictable synapses, as when I read this paragraph:
For almost a year, Netflix executives have told us that their detailed knowledge of Netflix subscriber viewing preferences clinched their decision to license a remake of the popular and critically well regarded 1990 BBC miniseries. Netflix’s data indicated that the same subscribers who loved the original BBC production also gobbled down movies starring Kevin Spacey or directed by David Fincher. Therefore, concluded Netflix executives, a remake of the BBC drama with Spacey and Fincher attached was a no-brainer, to the point that the company committed $100 million for two 13-episode seasons.
Yep. That’s me. God, I am so predictable that people are making a lot of money mining my honed, considered and long thought through preferences (that just happen to be exactly the same as millions of others).
I feel slightly humiliated. And yet, I am still looking forward to watching more episodes of House of Cards this week. A lot of the time, we choose to be manipulated, so long as we are entertained.
Later in the article, Andrew Leonard sounds a note of caution:
If Netflix perfects the job of giving us exactly what we want, when and how will we be exposed to things that are new and different, the movies and TV shows we would never imagine we might like unless given the chance? Can the auteur survive in an age when computer algorithms are the ultimate focus group? And just how many political dramas starring Kevin Spacey can we stand, anyway?
It is often said that Jorge Luis Borges would have loved the Internet. The non-linear journeys we take, forking paths through the information, the near-infiinty of it all, are themes mirrored in his writing. I imagine his interest would have been piqued by the exposure of a hoax on Wikipedia.
From 1640 to 1641 the might of colonial Portugal clashed with India’s massive Maratha Empire in an undeclared war that would later be known as the Bicholim Conflict. Named after the northern Indian region where most of the fighting took place, the conflict ended with a peace treaty that would later help cement Goa as an independent Indian state. Except none of this ever actually happened. The Bicholim Conflict is a figment of a creative Wikipedian’s imagination. It’s a huge, laborious, 4,500 word hoax. And it fooled Wikipedia editors for more than 5 years.
Continue reading “A Wikipedia Hoax”
The clocks go back tonight, as the United Kingdom switches back to Greenwich Mean Time for the winter.
This human, cultural manipulation of time reminds me of the idea of the International Fixed Calendar. This is a thirteen month calendar, with each month having 28 days. This means that days and dates always match up (the 1st of the month is always a Monday, &ct). As well as making arrangements (or any date based task easier) the International Fixed Calendar makes rent, interest, mortgage, salary and other monthly payments consistent and therefore fairer.
13 times 28 equals 364, one day short of a solar year. To solve this problem, the calendar adds an extra day that sits outside the seven day week or the thirteen month system. Since 366 day leap years would still be required to keep the calendar in sync with the Earth’s orbit, every four years you would get not one but two extra-calendrical days.
Late last year, researchers at Johns Hopkins University scored a bit of a media hit with their Hanke-Henry Calendar. They solved the 365 problem by saving up the extra days and the leap days, and then scheduling a leap weak every four or five years! I prefer the International Fixed Calendar however, because we like to compare seasonal and weather conditions year-on-year. It is important to be able to compare the same date over several years and know you are also comparing the same point in the Earth’s orbit too. Continue reading “Shifting Time and Calendar Reform”