Category Archives: Logical Fallacy

Disaster Propaganda

This might be the first of more than one post. I have been collecting, when possible, social media propaganda items regarding recent natural and unnatural disasters (such as local arson caused wildland fires).

  • First, many people use unusual events as a platform for propaganda messaging to persuade others of their own agenda.
  • Second, much of this propaganda messaging takes the form of asserting claims that when examined in context of historical data, are not true or are weakly partially true (which is why this form of propaganda is often effective).
  • Third, most of us lack context to recognize false claims. Virtually none of us will seek out data to confirm or deny the assertions. Remember, we employ System 1 emotional thinking rather than System 2 rational thinking, and quickly agree with a propaganda messaging that fits our pre-determined world view. (Disclosure: For extremely good personal reasons, based on extensive experience, my own world view is today to be highly skeptical of everyone’s claims.)

Examples

  • As Hurricane Harvey was impacting Texas, reporters wrote news articles saying this weather event is proof of catastrophic anthropocentric climate change (or sometimes called “warming” and hence CAGW).
  • Social  media’s “culture of perpetual outrage” spread this and linked in western wildfires (including those started by arson after a wet cold winter) as definitive proof of CAGW.
  • The news media writes that Hurricane Irma is so powerful it is sensed by seismometers with the unstated assertion this is novel and for the first time – but it is not unique.
  • The media loves hype – and will often hype predictions and forecasts in advance of events that turn out to be different than forecast (Oregon’s Eclipse Armageddon that-did-not-happen being a prime example). But readers and viewers will remember the emotional and scary predictions versus the reality.
  • Actors participate in propaganda messaging – actress Jennifer Lawrence seems to imply that if Hilary Clinton had been elected President, these hurricanes would not have occurred.

Validating the Claims

Some assertions, like the last one, fail the test of logic. Many assertions can be checked against past history – there is actual data and historical context.

Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr, a professor of environmental policy at the University of Colorado and one of the world’s experts on disasters, has summarized the historical context of hurricanes and disaster damages in series of Tweets sourced to peer reviewed literature and IPCC documents.

Per Pielke’s summary, many of the claims asserted in the media and social media are not true.

Being told what to think by propaganda messaging is easy – and is our default System 1 thinking style. Learning to think for yourself – and employing System 2 thinking style – is hard work.

Do your best to be aware of propaganda methods and attempts to leverage current events for propaganda messaging. Set your B.S. detector to “sensitive mode”!

Remember

Not everything you see on social media is real, although I am certain this is genuine:

Disclaimer

This post is about using events (in this case, disasters) as the basis of propaganda messaging. Nothing in this post is about climate change promotion or denial and should not be construed as such.

Related

 

Charts that do not mean what you think they mean

A popular meme in media and social media is commentary about income distribution. The typical chart distributes the population into fifths or quintiles, like the chart shown here.

The popular interpretation of this chart is to find your income level at left and conclude you are stuck in that quintile forever – and your prospects for advancement are non-existent.

Did you know this interpretation is wrong?

Most people do not stay in the same quintile. People look at this chart, figure out where they are, and incorrectly assume they stay there forever – but the reality is that the people in the n-th quintile in 1990 are not the same group in 2000 or 2010!

Most begin their working life in the bottom or second quintile and over the course of their work life, rise to the 4th or 5th quintile. At retirement, their income (from investments, savings, pensions, government programs) causes them to fall downwards by one or two quintiles.  On the other hand, many people will fall into the 5th quintile – even the highest few percent of income – the day they sell their fully paid for home whose price has risen due to inflation (or technically, due to the Fed’s devaluation of the dollar).

The logical fallacy is to see this chart and assume that everyone stays in the same position over time.

A valid interpretation is that the 5th quintile sees rising incomes while others do not, but we go on to make the logical fallacy assumption that this is the same group of people, year over year.This is part of our brain’s ability to quickly jump to conclusions (Kahneman’s System 1 style thinking), which are often wrong!

The logical fallacy is to assume that only those in the 5th quintile today receive the rising income benefit – when in reality, many people will move up and down between the quintiles, over time.

Snopes rips the media for fake news stories

An in-depth analysis of the false allegations and misleading claims made against the 45th President since his inauguration.

Source: The Lies of Donald Trump’s Critics, and How They Shape His Many Personas

Read it, please.

I am not a fan of President Trump, did not support him and I am not involved with either the Democrat or Republican parties. I have watched with disbelief, however, as the full power of propaganda messaging has been brought to play by “professional journalists”. There are many, many, many negative things that can be reported accurately and get the point across – but as Snopes documents, reporters have crossed a line into fantasy writing, as if it is their intent to interfere with democracy itself. I have not previously written about this specific topic – propaganda versus Trump – because the topic is overwhelming in scope.

Thankfully, Snopes does an excellent job addressing the absurd levels to which propaganda messaging has become the default position and concludes:

It has to be acknowledged that since January, many of Trump’s opponents, and even lukewarm supporters, have found considerable fault with his policies and behavior, based on accurate facts. There have been many occasions when Trump himself, undistorted and unfiltered, contributed mightily to the four personas we have outlined.

….

[but regarding poorly produced news stories] these sorts of massive exaggerations and gross distortions are even more corrosive and destructive than fake news about diarrhea on the golf course, because they bear some distant relationship with the truth.

Which is precisely how the best propaganda operates – it has at least some link to truth, but bends and distorts that truth to motivate the target to adopt and agenda or take action.

Years ago, I observed the use and power of propaganda to persuade others to adopt someone’s agenda. That led to much study on the subject and to the creation of this blog and Facebook page.

Politics is a minefield of propaganda messaging not only from politicians but also from their fanatical devotees on social media plus their friends in the mainstream media whose bad reporting is shared on social media as confirmation of allegations.

In the linked post, Snopes eviscerates the credibility of professional media (and some of the professional fake news web sites, especially those on social media) due to the media’s having morphed into a full time propaganda operation. In the future (which could be next week), when the Media screams “Wolf!”, few people will believe them anymore.

Remember, there are many, many issues regarding Trump that can be reported accurately and are quite negative for Trump or his policies. There is plenty to bash by just sticking to facts and policies. But the media, as Snopes documents, has become a giant propaganda messaging operation. Discerning truth from such overwhelming propaganda firepower is difficult.

We worry about allegations of foreign nations interfering in our elections but ignore media actually doing so through lies, distortions and inaccurate reporting.

The remarkable power of propaganda

I just scanned Twitter for items about the Affordable Care Act.

I estimate 99% of the Tweets were lies, contained significant errors, left out key information, or significantly exaggerated points. This included linked news stories at main stream news services such as the Los Angeles Times and NPR and others, which contained significant inaccuracies or left out crucial information and data that refuted the thrust of the article.

How many read the ACA? Probably a number approaching zero.

How many researched any of the topics at all? Probably a very small number.

So why are these people posting so much nonsense on Twitter?

Because of the effectiveness of propaganda that has delivered messages to them, which they in turn, regurgitate online, further spreading the propaganda message.

I covered this previously in National public opinion surveys are propaganda messaging in disguise.

Unfortunately, most national surveys of “American’s opinions” are surveys of propaganda effectiveness. The survey itself then adds to the growing body of propaganda messaging on a subject and becomes, itself, a form of propaganda.

You can go to news.google.com and find similar surveys.

  • 9% of American’s Feel Shingles Vaccination is a Priority
  • Many believe race relations will worsen under Trump
  • 68% of Americans believe humans are causing warming
  • 71% of Americans consider granola bars to be healthy

Surveys often follow a period of concerted propaganda messaging in the media.

In these and other cases, the survey is primarily measuring the effectiveness of the propaganda messaging around a subject. Most American’s understand little of the facts or logic for any of these items (and many more). Survey respondents are regurgitating the view given to them by propaganda messaging and the methods used to persuade masses of people.