Scientific misinformation flows through online echo chambers

New research examines how scientific misinformation is dispersed:

Research published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences maps out the factors that influence the spread of scientific misinformation and skepticism within online social networks — and the findings were disturbing.

“Our analysis shows that users mostly tend to select content according to a specific narrative and to ignore the rest,” Dr. Walter Quattrociocchi, a computer scientist at the IMT Institute for Advanced Studies in Italy and one of the study’s authors, told The Huffington Post in an email.¬†Users are driven to content based on the brain’s natural confirmation bias — the tendency to seek information that reinforces pre-existing beliefs¬†— which leads to the formation of “echo chambers,” he said…

For the study, the researchers conducted a quantitative analysis of articles shared on Facebook related to either conspiracy theories or fact-based science news. They found that users tended to cluster within homogenous, polarized groups, and within those groups, to share the same types of content, perpetuating the circulation of similar ideas.

Is the problem echo chambers or believing misinformation (when certain people want you to believe something else)? The way this article in the Huffington Post is written, it suggests that conservatives get stuck in these echo chambers – particularly for an issue like climate change – and don’t have a chance to engage with the real information. Something then needs to be done to break into or out of these echo chambers. Once people are exposed to ideas beyond the cluster of people like them, they will then find the truth. But, it may not work exactly this way:

  1. What if people actually are exposed to a range of information and still believe certain things? Exposure to a range of ideas is not necessarily a guarantee that people will believe the right things.
  2. How does the echo chamber participation on the conservative side compare with the echo chamber influence on the liberal side? The research study found echo chambers on both sides – the conspiracy and the science sides. Humans tend more toward people like them, a phenomenon called homophily, as found in numerous network studies. Are we worried generally that people might be too influenced by echo chambers (and not figuring out things for themselves) or are more worried that people have the correct ideas? Depending on one’s perspective on a particular issue, echo chambers could be positive or negative influences.

Pseudo equation/PR attempt to label the most depressing day of the year

Yesterday may have just been the most depressing day of the year if you believe one argument:

The idea of Blue Monday dates back to a 2005 campaign by Sky Travel. The company wanted to encourage people to take January vacations, so they reached out to Arnall, who developed his equation to find the most depressing day of the year.

Media, the public, and even other companies latched onto the idea. A U.K. group started a website dedicated to “beating Blue Monday.” Another group, bluemonday.org, encourages acts of kindness on the date.

Scientists, however, say there is no evidence that Blue Monday causes any more sadness than other specific days of the year. Burnett has been outspoken on the topic, publishing multiple blogs in The Guardian dedicated to dispelling the myth…

Burnett blames slow January news cycles, general post-holidays discontent, and “confirmation bias” for the term’s endurance.

“(People) feel down at this time of year, and the Blue Monday claim makes it seem like there are scientific reasons for this,” Burnett said in an email exchange. “It also breaks down a very complex issue into something easily quantifiable and simple, and that tends to please a lot of people, giving the impression that the world is predictable and measurable.”

And what is this equation?

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/01/19/today-is-saddest-day-year-and-there-blue-monday-equation-that-explains-why/?intcmp=latestnews

This is almost brilliant: come up with an equation (everyone knows equations make things more scientific and true), put it out there in January (dark and cold already), and the media eats it up (every morning show host ever hates Mondays). And the scientific data? Lacking.

That said, it would be intriguing to more into mass societal emotions around different times of the year. Is Christmas an excuse for many just to be happy for a month between Thanksgiving and the end of the year? I remember seeing a suggestion from someone that we should move Christmas later, perhaps to the middle of January, so we can enjoy the Thanksgiving high a bit longer before being pressed into another holiday. Or, what about those arguments that we need a national holiday the day after the Super Bowl? Given the amount of interaction people today have with the mass media (something like eleven hours of media consumption a day on average), couldn’t publicly displayed emotions have some effect on how we feel? Perhaps this has little or no effect compared to the effect of the emotions from the people nearby on us in our social networks.