Two studies published this week provide the latest update to our ongoing search for a cure for fake news.
One of the studies demonstrates that the fake news issue continues to be ideologically--and politically--one-sided. An Oxford working paper seeks to answer the question posed as the first line of the abstract, “what kinds of social media users read junk news?” (You already know the answer…)
The authors found that while Democrats prefer mainstream media and Republicans like conservative media, it is hard-right (not necessarily Republican) Trump supporters who account for more than half of the junk news traffic studied on both Twitter and Facebook.
Now what can be done about the problem? One answer is to educate the public to the point where they can spot logical fallacies themselves. As we mentioned on Monday, this means teaching critical thinking skills in schools.
When it comes to climate science, this skillset is absolutely vital. A new study in Environmental Research Letters by John Cook, Peter Ellerton and David Kinkead looked at 42 climate denial myths, and found that each and every one suffers from a logical fallacy. Teach people how to spot these basic logical failings, and they’ll be inoculated against future myths.
Cook et al provide a flow chart for how to examine an argument, from premise to conclusion, as well as supplementary info with the analysis for all 42 claims, and a table defining different fallacies. For those who learn best from skits, there’s even a video produced in tandem with the study, where the three authors rudely interrupt a conversation to explain the fallacy behind the classic “past warming was natural, so warming now must be natural” myth.
This study shows how denier myths often take a similar structure. Deniers tend to start with something that’s relatively true, like that the climate warmed and cooled in the past. From there, though, these myths leap to a conclusion that doesn’t necessarily follow--that current warming is natural, for example. Because denier arguments work backwards--because they’re just trying to justify denial instead of honestly examining evidence and forming conclusions--there’s always a logical failing between premise and conclusion.
With a basic competency in logic and argumentation, anyone can see right through the various denier arguments to see them for the myths they are. Though perhaps we should be worried: if everyone had these skills, there’d be no need for a daily denier roundup!