Category Archives: Research and Scholarship

Fake News Ethics: A Quick Audit

fake-news

There is…

(1) fake news,

(2) misleading or incompetent reporting,

(3) news that some people call fake because they don’t like its likely effects or implications, and

(4) news that people want others to think is fake so they can peddle their own fake news.

Did genuine, unequivocal fake news affect the 2016 election—that is, the first kind, the kind peddled by hoax sites like The News Nerd, and the Macedonian junk like the story about the Pope endorsing Trump?  There’s no evidence that would suggest or support that. Many voters are naive, gullible, ignorant fools, but still: how many actually changed their votes based on complete fiction? It’s impossible to tell, but stating that this was the case is itself a form of fake news.

Democrats and partisan pundits had been using the “fake news” device to mute the voices of journalists who didn’t follow in lockstep to the mainstream media pro-Democratic march. The IRS scandal, which is real and damning, has been largely ignored by the mainstream news media and called a “nothingburger” in Obama Administration talking points.The assertion that it is a myth that the IRS is using its power to suppress conservative dissent is …..fake news.

Because Fox is the only major news outlet (I do not count the slimy Breitbart websites) that was consistently critical of the Obama administration when it deserved it (and sometimes when it did not), Democrats not-quite-successfully-enough set out to marginalize Fox, calling it “faux news” and pushing the Obama narrative that it wasn’t even a legitimate news source. Obama, in an interview with Rolling Stone (speaking of sources of fake news!), blamed Clinton’s loss in part on “Fox News in every bar and restaurant in big chunks of the country.”

Isn’t that amazing? What gall. It isn’t the fact that the debt (that Obama promised to reduce) is now just short of 20 TRILLION dollars, with Obama adding a record $7.917 trillion to it, it’s that the one news source that actively exposed that fact was available to middle class voters that led to Hillary’s loss.  It wasn’t that the Affordable Care Act didn’t let Americans keep their health care plans as Obama repeatedly swore it would, it was that Fox News kept reminding its viewers of that (as the rest of the news media soft-peddled it) , while also publicizing that thanks to the Affordable Care Act, one’s health care insurance was less affordable unless the government was paying for it. It wasn’t that Hillary Clinton had lied about her e-mail tricks for over a year, the problem was that Fox was responsibly reporting that she was lying, unlike CNN, NBC, and the rest.

You know. Fake news.

As part of an organized effort up and down Democratic groups, ranks, allies and media operatives to de-legitimatize Donald Trump’s victory, the definition of “fake news” has been conveniently expanded. The Washington Post published a jaw-droppingly sloppy, partisan piece last week alleging that

The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.”

Continue reading

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A New Poll Shows That President Elect Trump’s Popularity Is “Soaring”…GOOD!

Yes, it's that cognitive dissonance scale again! See, if the nation and the U.S. Presidency is +10, and a newly elected POTUS was -3 before being elected, what happens?

Yes, it’s that cognitive dissonance scale again! See, if the nation and the U.S. Presidency is +10, and a newly elected POTUS was -3 before being elected, what happens?

Ann Althouse, who blogged about the poll, seemed surprised. “Why do you think this happened?” asks the astute, well-educated, presumably historically informed law professor.

Why? Because that’s the way it’s supposed to work, and that’s the way it has always worked, that’s why. I explained this phenomenon here, to the jeers of skeptics. I also wrote, “Most people don’t understand the Presidency or their own culture,” though I’m a bit surprised that it applies to Ann. In the original post about the vicious attempts on the Left to undermine the new President before he has even taken office, I explained,

“Americans have always realized that the slate is cleared when someone becomes President, and that the individual inherits the office and the legitimacy of that office as it has been built and maintained by it previous occupants. He (no “he or she” yet, sorry: not my fault) becomes the symbol of the nation, the government and its people, a unique amalgam of prime minister, king and flag in human and civilian form. That immediate good will, respect for the Presidency, and forgiveness of all that went before has made the transfer of power in the US the marvel of the world, and has kept the nation from violence and division. It is part of our strength as a society. It is part of the election process, and a vital one.”

Let me quote the Gallup piece I cited before, backing this up:

“In general, the American public rates all new presidents positively — all have received majority approval in their debut ratings — though Obama is clearly near the top of the list. The three presidents who took office after the death or resignation of their predecessors tended to start out with even greater public support, as the nation rallied around the new chief executive in times of crisis. These include Harry Truman in 1945 with an 87% approval rating, Lyndon Johnson with 78% in 1963, and Gerald Ford with 71% in 1974.”

The new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll of registered voters found that 46% of voters now have a very favorable or somewhat favorable opinion of the previously reviled Trump.  Now only 34%  have a very unfavorable opinion of him, with 12% somewhat unfavorable. Continue reading

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More Post-Election Ethics: “Bias Makes You Stupid” Edition

Dewey Wins!

Dewey Wins!

1. Ugliest moment of election night: Trump’s assembled chanting “Lock her up!” as the electoral victory approached.

2. Anti-Trump bias made the entire journalism profession and punditry class incompetent, forming an almost impenetrable echo chamber that assured its smug occupants and Democrats that Hillary Clinton literally couldn’t lose. “Bias makes you stupid” is a frequent refrain here, and I cannot think of a more powerful example.

In a terrific if rueful article in Slate, Jim Newell writes of how the whole Democratic establishment convinced itself that Hillary couldn’t lose:

I think of the lawmakers, the consultants, the operatives, and—yes—the center-left media, and how everything said over the past few years leading up to this night was bullshit…Think of how wrong the entire national media conversation was—and yes, I contributed my fair share—about how the Republicans were being torn apart as a party. I prewrote a piece Tuesday afternoon, to be published in the event of the expected Clinton win, pushing back against both myself and other members of the media, arguing that Democrats and Republicans were both in existential trouble and that, in the short-term context of a decaying political system, Republicans might even have the edge…This was wrong. Republicans don’t have a slight edge over Democrats in a decaying political system. Republicans are ascendant.

The whole point of experts and analysts is that they use facts and objectivity to cut through rationalizations and bias. If they can’t or won’t do that, they are useless. They are frauds. Here’s the Washington Post’s media columnist, Margaret Sullivan, who proves elsewhere in the essay, even as she writes about bias, that she is still a partisan to her core:

To put it bluntly, the media missed the story. In the end, a huge number of American voters wanted something different. And although these voters shouted and screamed it, most journalists just weren’t listening. They didn’t get it.They didn’t get that the huge, enthusiastic crowds at Donald Trump’s rallies would really translate into that many votes. …It would be too horrible. So, therefore, according to some kind of magical thinking, it couldn’t happen.

Journalists — college-educated, urban and, for the most part, liberal — are more likely than ever before to live and work in New York City and Washington, D.C., or on the West Coast. And although we touched down in the big red states for a few days, or interviewed some coal miners or unemployed autoworkers in the Rust Belt, we didn’t take them seriously. Or not seriously enough….We just kept checking our favorite prognosticating sites and feeling reassured, even though everyone knows that poll results are not votes.

The news media anti-Trump bias might have even lost Hillary the election, not just by outraging the public–it was so, so blatant–but by deceiving the Democrats. Clinton didn’t bother to campaign in Wisconsin, so convinced was she that voters there would blindly follow the party, as usual. The state was one of the big victories for Trump.

Yes, bias has made U.S. journalism incompetent, stupid, self-satisfied and useless. It will take more than one fiasco to reform it—if it can be reformed. I hope it can because democracy doesn’t function well with an untrustworthy newsmedia, Continue reading

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OK, Voter ID Opponents, Here’s An Integrity Test: Is This A Smoking Gun Or An Amazing Coincidence?

Wow! Just a handful of fraudulent voters in the whole country for years, and one of them just happens to be captured for terrorism! What are the odds?

Wow! Just a handful of fraudulent voters in the whole country for years, and one of them just happens to be captured for terrorism! What are the odds?

Those opposing voter ID requirements as a thinly-veiled Republican effort to suppress black voting maintain that there is no need for identification at the polls because voter fraud doesn’t exist. Last week, discussing the controversy,  I flagged a New York Times editorial  titled, The Success of the Voter Fraud Myth.

It argued in part,

As study after study has shown, there is virtually no voter fraud anywhere in the country. The most comprehensive investigation to date found that out of one billion votes cast in all American elections between 2000 and 2014, there were 31 possible cases of impersonation fraud. Other violations — like absentee ballot fraud, multiple voting and registration fraud — are also exceedingly rare. So why do so many people continue to believe this falsehood?

Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, wrote in U.S. News & World Report in 2012  that voter fraud didn’t exist:

“Voter fraud would be a real problem if it actually happened. It’s a serious crime, and one that can undermine our democracy. Fortunately, it’s a crime we have largely figured out how to prevent.”

Huh.

Well then, what does this mean?

From King5 TV (NBC):

The Cascade Mall shooting suspect, Arcan Cetin, may face an additional investigation related to his voting record and citizenship status.

Federal sources confirm to KING 5 that Cetin was not a U.S. citizen, meaning legally he cannot vote. However, state records show Cetin registered to vote in 2014 and participated in three election cycles, including the May presidential primary.

Cetin, who immigrated to the United States from Turkey as a child, is considered a permanent resident or green card holder. While a permanent resident can apply for U.S. citizenship after a certain period of time, sources tell KING his status had not changed from green card holder to U.S. citizen.

While voters must attest to citizenship upon registering online or registering to vote at the Department of Licensing Office, Washington state doesn’t require proof of citizenship. Therefore elections officials say the state’s elections system operates, more or less, under an honor system.

“We don’t have a provision in state law that allows us either county elections officials or the Secretary of State’s office to verify someone’s citizenship,” explained Secretary of State Kim Wyman. “So, we’re in this place where we want to make sure we’re maintaining people’s confidence in the elections and the integrity of the process, but also that we’re giving this individual, like we would any voter, his due process. We’re moving forward, and that investigation is really coming out of the investigation from the shootings.”

The penalty for voting as a non U.S. citizen could result in five years of prison time or a $10,000, according to Secretary of State’s Office.

The options are: Continue reading

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Not As Empathetic As You Should Be? Blame Tylenol!

Oh no! Uncle Phil overdoes on Tylenol again, and now he wants to vote for Donald Trump!

Oh no! Uncle Phil overdosed on Tylenol again, and now he wants to vote for Donald Trump!

From Salon, reposting from Alternet:

“Researchers from Ohio State University recruited 80 college students as test subjects. Half were told to drink a solution containing 1,000 milligrams of acetaminophen, while the second half were given a placebo drink containing no drugs. After the medication took effect, the two groups were instructed to rate the pain levels of people in eight different fictional situations — all were emotionally or physically traumatic scenarios. One story involved a person forced to deal with a parent’s unexpected death, another a person with a severe stab wound. Researchers found that students who had taken acetaminophen rated the pain levels of the traumatized story characters lower than those who had ingested the placebo liquid.

In another experiment involving 114 students, half drank the acetaminophen solution and the other half were given the placebo. Both groups were then subjected to brief, loud blasts of white noise and asked to rate the pain levels of a fictionalized participant who had experienced the same. Those who had consumed the acetaminophen solution rated both their own pain and the pain of others who experienced the noise lower than those who drank the placebo solution did. In another study section, subjects were shown short videos depicting a person being socially rejected from a group and were asked to rate the level of emotional pain the rejection caused. Here again, the group that drank the acetaminophen-infused liquid rated the pain lower than those who had only ingested the placebo drink.”

Hmmmm.

A few reactions to this:

1. Many news reports on these weird studies summarize the findings as “Common pain-killers can make you less empathetic.” “These findings suggest other people’s pain doesn’t seem as big of a deal to you when you’ve taken acetaminophen,” Dominik Mischkowski, the study’s co-author and a former Ph.D. candidate from Ohio State University, said in a news release.

Says Baldwin Way, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University: “Empathy is important. If you are having an argument with your spouse and you just took acetaminophen, this research suggests you might be less understanding of what you did to hurt your spouse’s feelings.”

I think I know what is going on here. This seems to be one of many ideologically-inspired studies, designed to make the case that those who are privileged and are in less daily distress are naturally less likely to be capable of empathy, and hence have less ethical reactions to the distress of others, including that caused by the conduct of the empathy-impaired. Continue reading

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The Drunk Lesbian Couples Study, The Golden Fleece, And Fiscal Responsibility

golden-fleece

Old Dominion University has recieved a $1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct research on the pressing issue of whether lesbian couples drink too much due to stress.   The grant states that

“Sexual minority women (i.e., women who self-identify as lesbian and bisexual) report more heavy drinking, more alcohol-related problems, and higher rates of alcohol use disorders as compared to heterosexual women. Despite this awareness, no studies have examined how relationship factors and partners’ alcohol use contribute to hazardous drinking among female sexual minority couples.”

Professor Jonathan Turley, who flagged this story, adds, “There may be a good reason for that.”

I almost made this an Ethics Quiz, asking if funding such research with taxpayer funds was responsible. I don’t present ethics quiz question when I am certain of the answer, though, and the more I thought about this, the more I began thinking of the late Senator William Proxmire’s Golden Fleece Awards.

In 1975, Proxmire launched the award with a press release announcing that the National Science Foundation had “won”after spending $84,000 to fund a study on the origins of love. For more than a decade, the Democrat from Wisconsin used his awards, which were chosen by Proxmire’s hand-picked panel of budget hawks, scientists and others, to focus attention on frivolous spending by dozens of government agencies, including the Department of Justice, the National Institute of Mental Health, and NASA, on trivial issues and mysteries. He also got a lot of publicity for the stunt, and sometimes even managed to kill the Golden Fleece-winning projects with the public outrage they generated.

Naturally, scientists hated this, and had contempt for Proxmire, whom they called “anti-science.” One scientist he mocked even sued Proxmire for defamation, in a case that reached the Supreme Court. In another example of alcohol-related research being called into question, Proxmire gave the award to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 1975 for funding research into alcohol and aggression in fish and rats, stating that ” the most effective way to understand human conditions and problems is to observe human behavior.” University of California psychobiologist Harman Peeke, whose project was halted midstream by the fleece, bitterly responded,  “I would really enjoy having Proxmire make a proposal to give people alcohol and ask them to fight. That’s simply unethical and immoral.”

There were and are five core objections to Proxmire’s awards, which shadow government research projects to this day: Continue reading

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Major League Baseball Cares About Integrity And I Wish This Proved It…But It Doesn’t

I know this will be a shock, Henry, but there's forest here, not just trees...

I know this will be a shock, Henry, but there’s forest here, not just trees…

On Baseball Prospectus, one of the scholarly baseball sites, Henry Druschel has a provocative, inspiring and ultimately silly post pointing out that if baseball teams were only concerned with winning, they would forfeit games for strategic purposes, yet they literally never do. He writes…

“Teams are almost certainly harming their long-term win rates in a meaningful way by playing until every out of every game has been recorded. For example, the Red Sox encountered a grueling quirk of the schedule on Wednesday night, when they were scheduled to play the Orioles at 7:05 p.m. before traveling to Detroit and playing the Tigers at 1:10 p.m. the next day. When it began to pour in Baltimore at roughly 9:00 p.m., the Red Sox were leading 8-1 after six innings, but imagine if the situation was reversed, and Boston was instead trailing 8-1 with three innings to go. Their odds of coming back to win such a game would be something like 0.5 percent. In such a scenario, they could either wait in the clubhouse until the game was either resumed or officially cancelled, or they could forfeit as soon as the rain began, and head for the airport and Detroit right away. In the non-hypothetical game, the rain delay lasted about 80 minutes before the game was officially called; it seems obvious that an extra hour and a half of rest before the next game would add more to a trailing Boston’s total expected wins than remaining in Baltimore and hoping for a miracle would. That might seem like a corner case, and truthfully, it is; I bring it up to note that no one would even consider a forfeit in such a scenario, despite the strategic logic of the move. This isn’t limited to corner cases, however; every time a position player enters a baseball game as a pitcher in a blowout, teams are harming their long-term expected win totals by not forfeiting instead….”

The writer concludes:

Given that forfeitures would be win-maximizing in certain cases, and given that teams choose never to strategically forfeit regardless, there are two possible conclusions. One: Teams are behaving irrationally. Given the immense value even a single win can have to a franchise, I feel confident stating that this is not the case. That leaves the second conclusion: There is something the team values more than winning as much as possible. There is a societal norm that places something—a competitive ideal, maybe, or just completion—over winning, a norm that would be violated by a strategic forfeit, and a norm that teams invariably follow.

As someone who values other things over winning, this excites me…

Don’t get too excited, Henry.

Yes, I believe that baseball teams take considered actions sometimes that do not maximize their chances of winning. I was roundly pilloried in baseball circles for an article I wrote in 2008 (for another scholarly baseball site)  which argued that Barry Bonds, the shameless steroid cheat and home run champion who was suddenly a free agent and who could, based on his recent exploits, still hit though well past 40, would not be signed by any team—not even the Yankees!—because doing so would signal to that team’s fans, city, players and organization that the team endorsed flagrant dishonesty as well as a willingness to disregard fairness, integrity and sportsmanship for a few extra wins. I was on a MLB radio show where the host laughed at me. “Of course he’ll be signed! You’re crazy!” were his words. “Just wait,” I said. “If he isn’t signed, it will mean that baseball colluded against him!” he said. “Just wait,” I said.

Bonds, who said he was dying to play, that he was healthy, that he’d play for the Major League minimum, that he’d sue MLB if someone didn’t sign him, never swung a bat in anger again. There was no collusion, either. It was pure cognitive dissonance, you see. Remember the scale? Continue reading

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