• Conspiracy theoryWho believes in conspiracies? Research offers a theory

    The Apollo moon landing was staged. The CIA killed JFK. 9/11 was a plot by the U.S. government to justify a war in the Middle East. President Barack Obama was not a natural born citizen. The massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school was staged as a pretense for increased gun control. The “deep state” is trying to destroy Donald Trump’s presidency. Conspiracy theories have been cooked up throughout history, but they are increasingly visible lately, likely due in part to the president of the United States routinely embracing or creating them. What draws people to conspiracy theories? New research suggests that people with certain personality traits and cognitive styles are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories.

  • Conspiracy theorySomething’s going on here: Building a comprehensive profile of conspiracy thinkers

    By Joshua Hart

    By and large, people gravitate toward conspiracy theories that seem to affirm or validate their political views. Republicans are vastly more likely than Democrats to believe the Obama “birther” theory or that climate change is a hoax. Democrats are more likely to believe that Trump’s campaign “colluded” with the Russians. But some people are habitual conspiracists who entertain a variety of generic conspiracy theories.

  • Truth decayBelief in creationism, conspiracy theories both based on the same thinking error: study

    It is not uncommon to hear someone espouse the idea that “everything happens for a reason” or that something that happened was “meant to be.” Now, researchers have found that this kind of teleological thinking is linked to two seemingly unrelated beliefs: creationism, the belief that life on Earth was purposely created by a supernatural agent, and conspiracism, the tendency to explain historical or current events in terms of secret conspiracies or conspiracy theories.

  • Conspiracy theoriesWho is likely to believe in conspiracy theories?

    Conspiracy theories about government officials and the institutions they represent are widespread and rooted in U.S. history, but they are particularly prevalent in times of rapid social and cultural change, increased cultural and ethnic diversity, and widespread collective action among members of previously marginalized groups. “For many members of the public, particularly individuals who have benefited from existing social and political arrangements, these developments and changes are quite threatening and can motivate compensatory endorsement of conspiracy beliefs or theories.”

  • Truth decayWhy you stink at fact-checking

    By Lisa Fazio

    People are very bad at picking up on factual errors in the world around them. Research from cognitive psychology shows that people are naturally poor fact-checkers and it is very difficult for us to compare things we read or hear to what we already know about a topic. In what’s been called an era of “fake news,” this reality has important implications for how people consume journalism, social media and other public information.

  • Considered opinionDeep Fakes: A looming crisis for national security, democracy and privacy?

    By Robert Chesney and Danielle Citron

    Events in the last few years, such as Russia’s broad disinformation campaign to undermine Western democracies, including the American democratic system, have offered a compelling demonstration of truth decay: how false claims — even preposterous ones — can be disseminated with unprecedented effectiveness today thanks to a combination of social media ubiquitous presence and virality, cognitive biases, filter bubbles, and group polarization. Robert Chesney and Danielle Citron write in Lawfare that the resulting harms are significant for individuals, businesses, and democracy – but that the problem may soon take a significant turn for the worse thanks to deep fakes. They urge us to get used to hearing that phrase. “It refers to digital manipulation of sound, images, or video to impersonate someone or make it appear that a person did something—and to do so in a manner that is increasingly realistic, to the point that the unaided observer cannot detect the fake. Think of it as a destructive variation of the Turing test: imitation designed to mislead and deceive rather than to emulate and iterate.”

  • Combatting truth decayMisinformation campaigns, social media, and science

    In some key domains of public life there appear to be coordinated efforts to undermine the reputation of science and innovation. Scientists now protest in the streets just to get governments to base policy on scientific evidence. Long-held scientific consensus on issues like the causes and consequences of climate change or the importance of vaccines for public health is increasingly contested. A new initiative will examine the interplay between systematic misinformation campaigns, news coverage, and increasingly important social media platforms for public understanding of science and technological innovation.

  • Combatting truth decayQ&A with Seth Mnookin on the fallacy of “both sides” journalism

    Seth Mnookin is a professor of science writing, director of the Graduate Program in Science Writing, and director of the MIT Communications Forum. In his most recent book, The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy, which won the Science in Society Award, Mnookin tackles a fundamental question: How do we decide what the truth is? Mnookin recently spoke about the state of journalism in an era when public trust is threatened by cries of “fake news” from political partisans aiming to discredit unflattering stories and to diminish the efficacy of the free press. “We’ve seen too many journalists confuse not taking sides with not calling out liars and frauds,” Mnookin says.

  • Public healthVaccine attitude rises and falls with ideology

    Political views and a person’s trust in government play a role in whether or not they get vaccinated, according to a new study. The results suggest a person’s ideology directly impacts who they trust, allowing the person to selectively credit information related to vaccine risks and benefits in ways that reflect their ideology. A person with strong conservative political views is less likely to vaccinate than a person with strong liberal political views, according to the study, as is someone who holds lower levels of trust in government medical experts.

  • The Russian connectionThe dangers of weaponized narratives, and how to respond to them

    Criticism of Facebook began last week after a news report said the social network enabled advertisers to seek out self-described anti-Semites and, revealed this week, published Russian-bought divisive political ads. The company responded by saying that it would restrict how advertisers targeted their audiences and actively work with the U.S. government on its Russian-interference investigations. Google also came under fire at the same time after news that it allowed the sale of ads tied to racist and bigoted keywords. Google responded by claiming it would work harder to halt offensive ads. Weaponized narrative is the new global battle space, one expert said: “America and other Western democracies — and indeed the very Enlightenment — are under attack.”

  • Fake newsCountering misinformation and correcting “fake news”

    It is no use simply telling people they have their facts wrong. To be more effective at correcting misinformation in news accounts and intentionally misleading “fake news,” you need to provide a detailed counter-message with new information—and get your audience to help develop a new narrative. A new study, the first conducted with this collection of debunking data, finds that a detailed counter-message is better at persuading people to change their minds than merely labeling misinformation as wrong. But even after a detailed debunking, misinformation still can be hard to eliminate, the study finds.

  • IslamophobiaIslamophobia: racism mixed with cultural intolerance, not merely religious bias

    Islamophobia represents a form of racism mixed with cultural intolerance as a whole, rather than simply intolerance of Muslims and Islam, according to a new study. The author refutes the argument that Islamophobia is a form of religious bias that oppresses U.S. Muslims on the grounds that Islam is nefarious and antithetical to American values. “We often hear that because Muslims are not a race, people cannot be racist for attacking Muslims,” Rice University’s Craig Considine says. “This argument does not stack up. It is a simplistic way of thinking that overlooks the role that race plays in Islamophobic hate crimes.”

  • CrimePsychopathic brains’ wiring leads to dangerous and violent actions

    Researchers have found that psychopaths’ brains are wired in a way that leads them to over-value immediate rewards and neglect the future consequences of potentially dangerous or immoral actions. Psychopaths “are not aliens, they’re people who make bad decisions,” one researchers said. “The same kind of short-sighted, impulsive decision-making that we see in psychopathic individuals has also been noted in compulsive over-eaters and substance abusers.” Psychopaths are “exactly what you would expect from humans who have this particular kind of brain wiring dysfunction.”

  • TerrorismStudying public reaction before and after a terror attack

    It is a rare opportunity when public policy professionals have information at their fingertips for comparing public views around a traumatic event before implementing new policies. A new study examine how those exposed to local terrorist acts through media sources perceive the risk of terrorism before and immediately after an event—and discuss how that difference in perception may shape measures that are proposed in response.

  • Mass traumasMass trauma’s emotional toll can disrupt children’s sense of competence

    Traumatic events can have a profound effect on communities. Whether it is a terrorist attack or a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or tornado, the aftermath can have lasting effects, especially on children. How children respond in the wake of mass traumatic events is related to their perceptions of competence – or how they view their ability to control a situation. An overwhelming challenge, such as a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, can disrupt the development of that sense of well-being.