"Scientists must be free to communicate without politicians’ spin"

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ric...@gedye.plus.com

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Apr 4, 2022, 6:22:31 AMApr 4
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From yesterday’s Observer newspaper, an interesting view on developments in science communication in the UK.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2022/apr/03/scientists-must-be-free-to-communicate-without-politicians-spin

Glenn Hampson

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Apr 4, 2022, 2:40:11 PMApr 4
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Thanks for the article Richard---interesting read. In the US, there are fewer than half as many journalists working at newspapers today than 12 years ago. Science journalism at newspapers has almost disappeared as a profession. Over this same period, we’ve seen the rise of social media and preprints. This decline in traditional science journalism and rise in science publicity have combined to make it harder for the public to know what research to believe and what to tune out.

 

It’s an interesting situation that in the UK, government press officers play such a prominent role in knowledge dissemination---one can only hope they don’t ever become politically directed (as they were in the US during the Trump administration). But I think the idea of government press officers isn’t terribly bad in principle when we’re fighting a pandemic (or other emergencies) in order to ensure the government’s advice is uniform. Again, here in the US, there was (and is) such a cacophony of opinions coming from the CDC, NIH, FDA, university experts, etc., that many people concluded scientists simply didn’t know what they were talking about, so maybe it would be better to just listen to Joe Rogan instead because at least he seems confident.

 

I do like the idea of scientists becoming better communicators, but IME, we absolutely need communication professionals involved as well---relying solely on researchers to communicate isn’t the answer, and relying on “science correspondents” isn’t sustainable either since they’re a vanishing breed. Some sort of centralized communication capacity might be the ticket, but this office needs to be run right (expert, politically independent, etc.).

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David Wojick

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Apr 4, 2022, 6:13:41 PMApr 4
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On the other hand in social media we now have something new and important, which is lengthy discussions of research results, including by people who know the science. I myself do quite a bit of blog commenting almost every day, mostly in discussions of policy related science. Discussion is better than passive reading. Plus I get a lot of twitter feeds alerting me to important new results.

That a sizeable fraction of the public is now immersed in science this way seems to be largely unnoticed. In this sense one-way print media science journalism has simply been replaced. 

David

On Apr 4, 2022, at 2:40 PM, Glenn Hampson <gham...@nationalscience.org> wrote:



Glenn Hampson

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Apr 4, 2022, 6:35:51 PMApr 4
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Interesting David—-thanks. I’d like to push back on two of your points: (1) Discussion is better than passive reading. Is it necessarily? What if the discussion thread is rife with misinformation and disinformation? Some newspapers (like mine) have even turned off comments on articles like climate change because they just attracted disinformation spreaders like moths to a flame, and (2) More of the public is now immersed in science. Can you provide a reference for this? I’m not talking about citizen science but general public awareness and education. If true, it would be a curious data point since public confidence in science hasn’t budged since about 1970. In the US (and according to Pew) science is still the second most trusted institution (behind the military), so if engagement is indeed up then it isn’t resulting in a more positive outcome for science.

Cheers,

Glenn

Sent from my iPhone

On Apr 4, 2022, at 3:13 PM, David Wojick <dwo...@craigellachie.us> wrote:

 On the other hand in social media we now have something new and important, which is lengthy discussions of research results, including by people who know the science. I myself do quite a bit of blog commenting almost every day, mostly in discussions of policy related science. Discussion is better than passive reading. Plus I get a lot of twitter feeds alerting me to important new results.

David Wojick

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Apr 4, 2022, 8:25:45 PMApr 4
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Important issues, Glenn, as always.

Re (1) discussion can certainly promote and maintain misinformation, but so can an article. There is no lack of the latter, especially when the science is debatable as it typically is in policy issues. As with litigation each side has its own experts.

I make a distinction between what I call AC and DC discussions. In DC only one side is present so a lot does not get challenged. But there will still be a lot of correction as the topic gets fleshed out from that side's way of thinking. In AC discussions more than one side is present and then we get a lot of basic analysis. To understand an issue, AC is necessary. (This is also true of written articles.)

As for disinformation I have never seen any that I know of, that is someone asserting what they do not in fact believe. The term tends to be used by each side as a fancy way of saying the other side is lying, which is also often said. Climate change is a paradigm case. (This is my 30th anniversary studying the climate issue. 1992 was the Rio Treaty.)

By the way I puzzled over this name calling for a long time. Clearly people have a very hard time understanding that other people can honestly disagree with what seems obvious to them. This finally led me to formulate what I call Wojick's second law which says "The weight of evidence is relative to the observer." Thus different people can look at the same complex evidence and honestly come to opposite conclusions. (Wojick's first law is that expressed thought, that is speaking and writing, has a tree structure.)

Re (2) we could start by looking at the population of active discussions, including the lurkers. This list does a good bit of discussing science, for example. There are lists, blogs, twitter storms, Facebook group exchanges, newspaper comments (as you mention), who knows what else? I have had my science articles get over 5,000 comments. 

Mind you I think the policy related science world I inhabit is dwarfed by things like the health and diet discussion worlds. This is likely most people's real contact with science. Maybe also cooking and other sectors not thought of. Online product reviews, for example, which can become discussions. I would not be surprised if the daily science related comment flow was a million a day.

These are all interesting research questions. I am sure there are large numbers of people who now spend significant time discussing science online. This is truly new.

David

On Apr 4, 2022, at 6:35 PM, Glenn Hampson <gham...@nationalscience.org> wrote:

 Interesting David—-thanks. I’d like to push back on two of your points: (1) Discussion is better than passive reading. Is it necessarily? What if the discussion thread is rife with misinformation and disinformation? Some newspapers (like mine) have even turned off comments on articles like climate change because they just attracted disinformation spreaders like moths to a flame, and (2) More of the public is now immersed in science. Can you provide a reference for this? I’m not talking about citizen science but general public awareness and education. If true, it would be a curious data point since public confidence in science hasn’t budged since about 1970. In the US (and according to Pew) science is still the second most trusted institution (behind the military), so if engagement is indeed up then it isn’t resulting in a more positive outcome for science.

Glenn Hampson

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Apr 4, 2022, 9:48:34 PMApr 4
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Hi David,

 

According to a recent report on COVID communications by the National Academies (doi DOI 10.17226/26361), disinformation is defined as deliberately falsified information that is intended to deceive, while misinformation is “untrue information, factually or contextually, that is shared or distributed.” Here’s a recent PLOS article on disinformation cited in the NAS report. It’s critical for all of us---in research, government, politics, and beyond---to understand what disinformation means, how it is used and spreads, and the threats it poses to truth, reason, and democracy. I hope this article helps: Why do people spread false information online? The effects of message and viewer characteristics on self-reported likelihood of sharing social media disinformation (plos.org).

 

Best,

 

Glenn

David Wojick

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Apr 5, 2022, 6:19:44 AMApr 5
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Thanks Glenn, but I do not see any examples in the article.

David

On Apr 4, 2022, at 9:48 PM, Glenn Hampson <gham...@nationalscience.org> wrote:



Glenn Hampson

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Apr 5, 2022, 11:07:58 AMApr 5
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Hi David,

 

In politics, look no further than Russia’s state media channel for a fountain of disinformation, claiming that Russian forces are being greeting as liberating heroes by the Ukrainians. In science, Fox correspondent Lara Logan said yesterday that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution a hoax perpetrated by Jews (Lara Logan Suggests Theory of Evolution Is Jewish-Funded Hoax - Rolling Stone). That gem checks two boxes: disinformation and antisemitism. There are also, of course, floods of anti-vax, anti climate, and other anti knowledge streams---some based in a misunderstanding of science, some repeating tropes that are pure fiction with no basis in fact (e.g., that microchips in vaccines are allowing Bill Gates and George Soros to control our brains). In the realm of anti-reality, we have purveyors of hate ranging from Alex Jones (InfoWars) claiming that the Sandy Hook massacre was a false flag operation, to Donald Trump and his army claiming the 2020 election was stolen, and beyond.

 

That’s what we call disinformation---willful lies propagated through the media---as opposed to misinformation, which is more of the ilk you’re describing, where in the course of debating issues, people of good conscience simply misstate or misinterpret the facts but without the intent to deceive.

 

Best,

 

Glenn

David Wojick

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Apr 5, 2022, 1:15:27 PMApr 5
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Glenn, almost everything you list in the science area is believed by those who say it, so it is not disinformation. The Russian propaganda is disinformation but that is neither science nor surprising. It is standard wartime propaganda. The Logan is interesting but I am skeptical since it looks like hearsay from an adversary. And again if she believes it then it is not disinformation.

I have watched the climate and anti-forced-vaccination debates closely and seen no clear disinformation. The fact that large numbers of people say the same thing is strong evidence that they believe it. Nor are these debates anti-knowledge. There is lots of science cited on both sides of both debates. Keep in mind that both are about government authority at least as much as science. They are policy debates.

David

David Wojick

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Apr 5, 2022, 2:09:38 PMApr 5
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Just to tie this back to what I said earlier here are two climate science debate blogs. If you see any evidence if disinformation please point to it. Most of the active posters and commenters are long term residents with well known personal views. They seem honest to me. Some I know and they are definately honest, on both sides.

One (WUWT) is DC, that is one sided, on the skeptical side. Thus the debate is largely within the skeptical view of the science and rhetorically harsh (often the case with one sided debates). But they do several posts a day so one can see the complexity of the issues.

The other (Curry) is AC with both sides, warmer and skeptic, pretty well represented so you can see the full scientific debate. It used to be much more active when she was Chair of Ga Tech's Atmospheric Sciences Dept and did several posts a week. Now it is several a month. Curry is what is called a Lukewarmer, meaning she believes humans are causing global warming but sees no emergency. Others disagree, both ways.

David

On Apr 5, 2022, at 2:14 PM, David Wojick <dwo...@craigellachie.us> wrote:

Glenn, almost everything you list in the science area is believed by those who say it, so it is not disinformation. The Russian propaganda is disinformation but that is neither science nor surprising. It is standard wartime propaganda. The Logan is interesting but I am skeptical since it looks like hearsay from an adversary. And again if she believes it then it is not disinformation.

Glenn Hampson

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Apr 5, 2022, 2:50:36 PMApr 5
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Hi David,

 

I think I see where you’re confused. Misinformation might, under generous conditions where we don’t assume ill motives, arguably be a judgement call. Disinformation is not---it’s objective. Your statement that if you believe what you’re saying then it isn’t disinformation is categorically false.

 

If you (not you personally but the royal you) sincerely believe that climate change is a hoax, that the science behind it is utterly without merit, that climate scientists are being paid by liberal lobbyists, and so on, and if you then portray yourself as a climate expert and publish relentlessly in opposition to CO2 reduction policies, that’s disinformation plain and simple. The same is true for ant-vax rhetoric that takes bits and pieces of sciency-sounding interpretations, and has a sciency-seeming person peddle these interpretations. The outcome in both cases is to distort and deceive, not to advance and educate.

 

If a raving lunatic with a news show sincerely believes his or her information, and if this information is objectively, provably false, the lunatic doesn’t get a free pass. They are harming the pubic discourse with their rhetoric. The fact that they believe what they’re saying is irrelevant. They can say what they want, but facts are facts and falsehoods are falsehoods. A nicely wrapped lie is still a lie. On the other hand, if a scientist with a different interpretation of the facts writes a paper laying out why he or she thinks they’re correct, this is the kind of useful discourse you’re talking about. But when these differences get weaponized by media with an agenda and promoted as evidence that there is a genuine lack of consensus among credible scientists, this discourse can be turned into misinformation and disinformation.

 

Misinformation in these cases is hard to distinguish from disinformation; misinformation is easier to spot with regard to advocacy efforts on either side of an issue that don’t look at the full picture or that cherry-pick evidence to highlight one interpretation over another. Disinformation is the oil companies promoting fake science for decades purporting to show that fossil fuels don’t contribute to global warming, tobacco companies promoting fake science showing no link between smoking and cancer, and a constellation of conspiracy theorists today promoting fake cures for COVID. The fact that all of these people may well believe their own rhetoric is immaterial. What they are peddling is fake news---objectively, demonstrably false information.

 

And that’s a huge problem.

 

So, I do encourage you to read more about this issue. There’s a ton of stuff out there (for example, check out my recent posts on the SCI website for why we believe the things we do---Why do smart people do dumb things? (sciencecommunication.institute). There is NO credible literature that supports your point of view on this, so I’d rather not take up everyone’s time litigating your idea here. As always, I appreciate your sometimes provocative perspectives---it helps me see who’s still reading this listserv! But in this case, this is not only a bridge too far but a bridge that shouldn’t be built.

 

Best regards,

David Wojick

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Apr 5, 2022, 3:54:06 PMApr 5
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Glenn, your early-on email cited this definition: "disinformation is defined as deliberately falsified information that is intended to deceive, while misinformation is “untrue information, factually or contextually, that is shared or distributed.""

If someone believes what they say it is not "deliberately falsified" (by them) nor "intended to deceive" so by definition it cannot be disinformation. 

In online discussions it will be difficult to post deliberately falsified information because someone else will call you on it. People are constantly correcting one another, or claiming to. (Mind you in DC discussions these corrections are limited to issues within the paradigm. Kuhn pointed out that this is a general feature of science. I did part of my Ph.D. thesis on it.) This is another reason I am skeptical of claims that there is a lot of disinformation. 

So when you say this "If you (not you personally but the royal you) sincerely believe that climate change is a hoax, that the science behind it is utterly without merit, that climate scientists are being paid by liberal lobbyists, and so on, and if you then portray yourself as a climate expert and publish relentlessly in opposition to CO2 reduction policies, that’s disinformation plain and simple."

You are clearly wrong. It might be misinformation, if they are wrong, but if they "sincerely believe" it then it does not fit the definition requirement of "deliberately falsified". Looks like you are one of the many people I talked about early on that misuses the term disinformation.

Note by the way that a significant number if scientists believe at least part of what you describe. Some believe all of it. If they are right then it is not even misinformation. That is what the debate is all about.

As for the rest you are just taking a strong position in the debate.

David

Glenn Hampson

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Apr 5, 2022, 4:18:25 PMApr 5
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Hi David,

 

As usual, your hard-headedness is annoying, but it makes people think, so thank you. I think you’ve identified a flaw in our definitions here, which is great---we need to be more precise. It’s true that misinformed people can spread either misinformation or disinformation. But before attaching labels to their actions, we also need to investigate the roots of their misinformation, and also look at their actions---whether they are knowingly spreading false information, doing so unwittingly, and so on. Maybe a matrix representation would help here. As far as I’m aware, the science communication community hasn’t dug that deeply into the differences between mis- and dis-information---the definitions that have emerged are consensus definitions and not the result of rigid intellectual examinations. So, you’ve put your finger on something here that needs more attention.

 

But David---we might need a higher power here to weigh in on the rest of your observations so I’m tapping Mario Biagiolo (hopefully he can spare a few moments). What you’re essentially alleging is that we bear no responsibility for spreading lies in our society, and that’s an interesting allegation. Focusing just on science, if a member of the Kansas School Board sincerely believes the world was created 6,000 years ago and acts on their belief by requiring state schools to teach Creationism alongside Evolution, are they spreading misinformation, disinformation, or neither? If the school board member is doing this to curry favor with the electorate knowing full well that evolution is perhaps the most well-established theory in all of science, then yes---they’re spreading disinformation. But if they do so from their conviction that they’re right, then you say they’re blameless. I say they’re not---they’re still spreading disinformation because their statements are demonstrably counterfactual.

 

Mario also wrote a recent article on mis- and dis-information in US environmental policy (which I circulated to the group), identifying an interesting phenomenon whereby we are now weaponizing disinformation---I’ll let him do the explaining (hopefully). Mario?

Simon Linacre

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Apr 5, 2022, 4:22:12 PMApr 5
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David, do you think the definition of of disinformation is wrong? That the OED and Merriam-Webster have just missed the point all these years? You are arguing that you cannot deliberately falsify something you believe to be true - of course not. But there is a difference between disinformation and *peddling* disinformation. I can peddle anything that I sincerely believe without knowing or caring if it’s true. And that’s what is dangerous in today’s hyper-connected society. The Kremlin can create a knowingly false narrative around staged images from Bucha and disseminate it through state media, where it will be shared and shared again in a state-sponsored echo chamber, without evidence-based, independent reporting from the likes of the BBC to change that narrative. 

Disinformation begets misinformation, if you like - but do you really think that, for example, Putin believes the images from Bucha are fake? No. He is deliberately covering up by saying something he knows not to be true. It’s disinformation. 



Sent from my iPhone

On 5 Apr 2022, at 20:54, David Wojick <dwo...@craigellachie.us> wrote:

Glenn, your early-on email cited this definition: "disinformation is defined as deliberately falsified information that is intended to deceive, while misinformation is “untrue information, factually or contextually, that is shared or distributed.""

David Wojick

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Apr 5, 2022, 4:55:42 PMApr 5
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Sorry but I am not following you, Simon. To begin with this is not possible: "I sincerely believe without knowing or caring if it’s true." To sincerely believe something is to believe it is true. That is the definition of "believe".

Beyond that I do not understand what you are saying. (I am easily confused, which is why I study confusion. Like the crazy shrinks.)

David

On Apr 5, 2022, at 4:22 PM, Simon Linacre <slin...@gmail.com> wrote:

David, do you think the definition of of disinformation is wrong? That the OED and Merriam-Webster have just missed the point all these years? You are arguing that you cannot deliberately falsify something you believe to be true - of course not. But there is a difference between disinformation and *peddling* disinformation. I can peddle anything that I sincerely believe without knowing or caring if it’s true. And that’s what is dangerous in today’s hyper-connected society. The Kremlin can create a knowingly false narrative around staged images from Bucha and disseminate it through state media, where it will be shared and shared again in a state-sponsored echo chamber, without evidence-based, independent reporting from the likes of the BBC to change that narrative. 

Mel DeSart

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Apr 5, 2022, 5:14:54 PMApr 5
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Seriously David???  You don’t think that a person can sincerely believe that something is false???

 

Statement: some childhood vaccines cause autism.  I sincerely believe that to be false.

 

Mel

David Wojick

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Apr 6, 2022, 6:36:23 AMApr 6
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It means you believe it is true that it is false. The proposition you believe true is "it is false that p".

This thread has outlived its usefulness. 

David

On Apr 5, 2022, at 5:14 PM, Mel DeSart <des...@uw.edu> wrote:



Glenn Hampson

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Apr 6, 2022, 10:54:14 AMApr 6
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Stay tuned David. I know Prof. Biagioli is still hoping to weigh in when his schedule permits---we need expert opinion on the moral/legal/ethical definition of truth (or whatever angle he was going to cover). Of particular relevance to this group is how the disinformation lobby has turned the concept of “open” on its head. Now, if information isn’t utterly open---no withheld data from clinical trial participants, no delays in responding to massive on ongoing requests for data from conspiracy theorists, etc.---then it is ”dark” and not to be trusted. “Transparency” has become a politicized concept used to support the disinformation narrative that science cannot be trusted because it’s unwilling and/or unable to be completely “open.”

 

Mario calls one attribute of this dynamic “parasitism,” and describes it as “not just ordinary appropriation but highly efficient targeted appropriation of the host’s resources. Deregulation advocates not only turn their adversaries’ norms against them and harm the public interest while pretending to defend it, but they do so economically, by skillfully maximizing the bang and minimizing the buck. Mobilizing ethics to change rule-making protocols is a lot cheaper than fighting epistemic controversies; criticizing science is infinitely easier than producing an alternative science; playing scientist on TV to make it look like there is no scientific consensus on global warming is remarkably less time-consuming and skill-intensive than becoming a scientist; demanding data and calculations is a lot less resource-intensive than producing them from information available in the public domain, and while many people can “stop stuff,” far fewer can produce knowledge. The problem with conspiratorial thinking is not so much that it is false but that it is extraordinarily efficient. It’s a cheap way of wasting the world.”

 

I circulated the link to Mario’s article before but here it is again: Dark Transparency: Hyper-Ethics at Trump’s EPA (lareviewofbooks.org).

Glenn Hampson

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Apr 6, 2022, 11:55:48 AMApr 6
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Resending this email from an hour ago---got stuck in the queue

David Wojick

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Apr 6, 2022, 2:25:14 PMApr 6
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Okay Glenn, but I do not see how this is related to our two discussions of (1) the size of public discussion of science and (2) the extent of actual disinformation. My twin claims being that (1) is very large and (2) is very small.

I am curious as to who or what the "disinformation lobby" is? Are they for it or against it?

David

On Apr 6, 2022, at 11:55 AM, Glenn Hampson <gham...@nationalscience.org> wrote:

Resending this email from an hour ago---got stuck in the queue

David Wojick

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Apr 6, 2022, 2:53:31 PMApr 6
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Speaking of waiting, I am still waiting for a single example of disinformation in the public discussion of science where disinformation is defined as deliberately falsified information that is intended to deceive.

As a Chinese philosopher of science and friend of mine used to say, without an example "We are talking in a vacuum".

David

On Apr 6, 2022, at 3:24 PM, David Wojick <dwo...@craigellachie.us> wrote:

Okay Glenn, but I do not see how this is related to our two discussions of (1) the size of public discussion of science and (2) the extent of actual disinformation. My twin claims being that (1) is very large and (2) is very small.

Glenn Hampson

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Apr 6, 2022, 3:01:40 PMApr 6
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Hi David,

 

This all ties together in a number of relevant ways. To your two points, going back to the original thread---still in the subject line---more communication isn’t necessarily better, especially if a good chunk of what we’re counting as “communication” is actually promoting half-baked claims on Twitter, which then get picked by the media, or getting flooded by comments from science deniers who aren’t at all interested in improving their own understanding or the science literacy of others. Misinformation and disinformation are key elements in this mix---if we are indeed doing more science communication than before (and I don’t know of any numbers to support this), then I suspect a good deal of this activity involves myth-busting as opposed to substantive and productive engagement.

 

And second, your claim that the volume of science disinformation out there is small is entirely without merit---sorry. I would compile an exhaustive list for you but suspect you would just say this is all honest misunderstanding and legitimate differences of opinion. Some of it is, but a lot of it is not, and is instead a narrative deliberately constructed to promote an agenda (and there isn’t just one---Trumpism, anti-elitism, Q-ism, etc.) that has nothing whatsoever to do with discovering truth and promoting understanding. In these narratives, truth is the enemy because it’s “dark” (see Mario’s essay), or funded by George Soros (read: antisemitism), or anti-capitalist, or woke, or any number of other gimmicks that latch onto grievances and portray truth as an enemy of freedom. It’s the same playbook that authoritarian regimes have used for centuries now, and it’s extremely effective in the modern social media era.

 

I hope this isn’t all too much for the list---my apologies. Our conversations do tend to go in waves so just ignore the emails with this subject line if this topic isn’t your cup of tea.

Margaret Winker Cook

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Apr 6, 2022, 3:03:29 PMApr 6
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Oxycontin and its “lack of potential for addiction.”
There  are many others but this tragic disinformation has been widely documented. 


Margaret


Margaret Winker, MD

Trustee, WAME

***

wame.org

@WAMedEditors

www.facebook.com/WAMEmembers

Views are my own. 



On Apr 6, 2022, at 1:53 PM, David Wojick <dwo...@craigellachie.us> wrote:

Speaking of waiting, I am still waiting for a single example of disinformation in the public discussion of science where disinformation is defined as deliberately falsified information that is intended to deceive.

Glenn Hampson

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Apr 6, 2022, 3:21:56 PMApr 6
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Don’t get hung up on the exact wording of my definition David---propose a better one if you’d like. There’s a large universe of examples to choose from that include misinformation, disinformation, and some combination of both. See this good primer by Jevin West and Carl Bergstrom (they of “Calling Bullshit” fame) for starters: Misinformation in and about science | PNAS.

 

Examples include bad science that keeps getting promoted even though it’s been retracted (e.g., the Wakefield study, purporting to show a connection between vaccines and autism, is still widely promoted as gospel by the anti-vax community), non-science that gets promoted as science (e.g., GMOs, home remedies for COVID, etc), agendas that try to supplant science (e.g., creationism, dark transparency), non-disputes in science that get portrayed as disputes for political benefit (e.g., climate change), and much more. Do your research though---I think you’re just playing devil’s advocate here and asking everyone on the list to prove the existence of an obvious fact. It’s abundantly clear and has been for years that mis- and dis-information in science is an important issue. What would help, I think, is to nail down more clearly what constitutes “dis” information versus “mis,” and also explore your earlier point about culpability for either/both.

David Wojick

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Apr 6, 2022, 3:22:11 PMApr 6
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We need the actual occurrence of the disinformation. That is when it was deliberately posted by someone who knew it was false, intending to deceive. (People repeating false things that they believe are not disinformation.)

If the act of disinformation was documented we need to see that documentation.

David

On Apr 6, 2022, at 3:03 PM, Margaret Winker Cook <margare...@gmail.com> wrote:



David Wojick

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Apr 6, 2022, 3:25:17 PMApr 6
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The definition is a good one Glenn. You seem not to see my point. As I said originally, I have never seen disinformation and I doubt it occurs very much. People are using the term to refer to things they just do not like, which is incorrect. It is a huge confusion!

David

On Apr 6, 2022, at 3:21 PM, Glenn Hampson <gham...@nationalscience.org> wrote:



Glenn Hampson

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Apr 6, 2022, 3:34:50 PMApr 6
to David Wojick, Margaret Winker Cook, osi20...@googlegroups.com

You’re absolutely wrong on this David. Let’s look at Joe Rogan. According to this NPR article (What the Joe Rogan podcast controversy says about the online misinformation ecosystem : NPR ), “In a December episode of his podcast, Rogan interviewed Dr. Robert Malone, a scientist who worked on early research into the mRNA technology behind top COVID-19 vaccines, but who is now critical of the mRNA vaccines. Malone made baseless and disproven claims, including falsely stating that getting vaccinated puts people who already have had COVID-19 at higher risk.” Given that Rogan’s podcast reaches 11 million people, public health officials are understandably alarmed when he does stuff like this.

 

By your definition, this is all innocent. Joe Rogan was just dinking around asking questions, Malone sincerely believed he was speaking the truth, so there’s nothing to see here---just keep moving. But by EVERYONE ELSE’S estimation in science and public policy, this is a textbook case of disinformation spreading.

 

If your smoking is a scientist publicly making a claim that he or she doesn’t actually believe, that’s a needle in a haystack but that isn’t how the entire world defines disinformation---just you.

 

I hope this helps. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here---no one is going to start considering disinformation spreaders part of the legitimate science communication ecosystem (nor should they, please).

Glenn Hampson

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Apr 6, 2022, 3:45:05 PMApr 6
to David Wojick, Margaret Winker Cook, osi20...@googlegroups.com

I should have said “smoking gun” and not just “smoking”….sorry about that. Speaking of which, here is a list of researchers who have falsified their research: List of scientific misconduct incidents - Wikipedia. The published versions of their research constitute on narrow example of disinformation---fraudulent findings that have deliberately polluted the scientific record and resulted in a misdirection of research efforts and misallocation of research funds.

 

 

From: Glenn Hampson
Sent: Wednesday, April 6, 2022 12:35 PM
To: 'David Wojick' <dwo...@craigellachie.us>; Margaret Winker Cook <margare...@gmail.com>; osi20...@googlegroups.com
Subject: RE: "Scientists must be free to communicate without politicians’ spin"

 

You’re absolutely wrong on this David. Let’s look at Joe Rogan. According to this NPR article (What the Joe Rogan podcast controversy says about the online misinformation ecosystem : NPR ), “In a December episode of his podcast, Rogan interviewed Dr. Robert Malone, a scientist who worked on early research into the mRNA technology behind top COVID-19 vaccines, but who is now critical of the mRNA vaccines. Malone made baseless and disproven claims, including falsely stating that getting vaccinated puts people who already have had COVID-19 at higher risk.” Given that Rogan’s podcast reaches 11 million people, public health officials are understandably alarmed when he does stuff like this.

 

By your definition, this is all innocent. Joe Rogan was just dinking around asking questions, Malone sincerely believed he was speaking the truth, so there’s nothing to see here---just keep moving. But by EVERYONE ELSE’S estimation in science and public policy, this is a textbook case of disinformation spreading.

 

If your smoking is a scientist publicly making a claim that he or she doesn’t actually believe, that’s a needle in a haystack but that isn’t how the entire world defines disinformation---just you.

 

I hope this helps. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here---no one is going to start considering disinformation spreaders part of the legitimate science communication ecosystem (nor should they, please).

 

 

From: David Wojick <dwo...@craigellachie.us>
Sent: Wednesday, April 6, 2022 1:22 PM
To: Margaret Winker Cook <margare...@gmail.com>

Biagioli, Mario

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Apr 6, 2022, 4:06:19 PMApr 6
to David Wojick, Mel DeSart, Simon Linacre, Glenn Hampson, ric...@gedye.plus.com, The Open Scholarship Initiative
Hi David,

As a historian, I often struggle to match philosophical distinctions and definitions with observed scenarios, so this discussion of misinformation/disinformation is getting confusing to me. Even the notion of 'intent', while clear and simple in principle, is not easy to apply given that we don't quite know how to reliably assess whether what people tell us about their intent is correct or not.  (Nor can we be sure that they necessarily have a good understanding of their intent either).

So I have two hypothetical cases that may involve what you call disinformation or misinformation, and I would like to ask you to tell us which is which.

  1. A climate scientist believes, based on years of gathering , observing, and analyzing evidence, that climate change is very real. A clear majority (but not totality) of scientists in their field share their same beliefs, for the same empirical reasons, which confirms to them that their beliefs are sound. They decide to publish a diagram to convey this pattern -- the dramatic increase in temperatures science the industrial revolution -- to the public and policy makers. In the process of doing so, they end up dramatizing the visual evidence, making the diagram look cleaner than it should be.  (To make the question of intent a lot simpler, let's assume that, at some level, they knew they were dramatizing the diagram).  
  2. Are they engaging in disinformation?  If so, are they engaging in disinformation concerning the diagram or disinformation concerning global warming?  (I separate the two claims because one could say that even if the diagram is dramatized, it does not make a false claim about global warming).  Even if the scientist knows that the diagram may be exaggerated, one could say that it still conveys what the scientists, and their community, knows about climate at that time: that it is happening.
  3. In sum does this vignette exemplify information, misinformation, disinformation -- or something else?  And do you think it matters to differentiate between the two claims: 1) that climate change is happening and 2) that the diagram represents it?  I'm asking because there may be two different notions of intent involved in the two claims, that is, that a scientist may be found to have intentionally dramatized the visual evidence with the intent of conveying a true statement about climate? (One could have, simultaneously, the intent to dramatize a diagram and the intent to tell the truth about climate change). How would you call that?

  4. A person with no background in climate science works, and is paid by, a think tank or PR firm to write op-eds in a variety of media venues arguing that global warming is a hoax.  (Where the think- tank gets the funds to pay their writers is not relevant to this vignette). Let's assume that this person does not know whether global warming is real or not -- they don't have the skills and knowledge to determine that, or even to read and evaluate the available literature on the topic. (So, even if they believe that claim climate change is still indeterminate, they do not think so as a result of having gone through the relevant literature and evidence and have decided that the scientific debate is still open, but just because they have not bothered to check, and probably don't have the skills to do so. All cows are dark at night).
  5. At the same time, they are paid to write up and publish a certain narrative (that climate change is a hoax), and they believe that they have the right to express that opinion, irrespectively of whether they are true or not.  Opinions are opinions and free speech protects them. And they can legitimately represent those opinions to themselves as opinions because they have not bothered to check their truth status. Their bosses just tell them to write, and they follow their contractual responsibilities.  
  6. So their intent may be difficult to pinpoint.  One could say that they do not intend to deceive (they don't know for sure whether what they say is true or not, and thus they don't know whether what they publish may deceive readers).  Their job is just to write what their employers want -- millions of people do that, legally, everyday in the US, across many fields and industries. Certainly in PR.  It's called "work for hire." 
  7. But could one also argue that, perhaps, they may be negligent of not checking what they write and publish, thus dodging the question of intent? In sum, are they engaging in misinformation or disinformation?  Or are they just doing their job as PR people, and that it is silly for us to criticize them for doing so?  They are just following orders.
I am sure there are many people involved in climate change debates who do not fall in any of these hypotheticals.  My intent is not to solve the whole question but try to get some clarity in the discussion.

Thanks,
Mario





From: osi20...@googlegroups.com <osi20...@googlegroups.com> on behalf of David Wojick <dwo...@craigellachie.us>
Sent: Wednesday, April 6, 2022 4:35 AM
To: Mel DeSart <des...@uw.edu>
Cc: Simon Linacre <slin...@gmail.com>; Glenn Hampson <gham...@nationalscience.org>; ric...@gedye.plus.com <ric...@gedye.plus.com>; The Open Scholarship Initiative <osi20...@googlegroups.com>

David Wojick

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Apr 6, 2022, 5:21:46 PMApr 6
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Hi Mario, a pleasure to meet you. I too am part historian as my Ph.D. is in history and philosophy of science. I am also a Kuhnian.

Here is my quick assessment, which may change on reflection. (I like to think I am slow but careful. My wife says I am just slow.)

In case 1 there is certainly no disinformation, as there is no intent to deceive. Opponents might well argue that the simplified diagram is a falsification. That happens a lot and sometimes it is a reasonable argument, if the missing complexity is important. If the claims are false then it is misinformation, but we do not know that. There is a lot of debate over how global temperatures over the last 150 years are estimated. In no case is global temperature actually observed. 

You do not mention the crucial distinction between (1) warming, (2) human caused warming and (3) dangerous human caused warming and a lot depends on how that is addressed in the publication. People often jump from 1 right to 3 which is a deep fallacy.

Overall these are arguments in the debate, not information per se. That is, the information is that they make this argument, in this way.

In case 2 it all depends on what the writer believes. If they believe that the claim of dangerous human caused global warming is a hoax then they are getting paid to write up what they believe and this too is an honest argument in the debate. If they do not believe it is a hoax and write that it is in order to sway public opinion then that is disinformation. 

Their lack of expertise is not relevant. One of the fascinating things about the climate case is that the science is so wide ranging that everyone is a novice for most of it. For example an expert in temperature estimation will likely know relatively little radiation physics and vice versa. And these are just two of hundreds of technical areas involved.



On Apr 6, 2022, at 4:06 PM, Biagioli, Mario <biag...@law.ucla.edu> wrote:



Glenn Hampson

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Apr 6, 2022, 5:40:52 PMApr 6
to David Wojick, Biagioli, Mario, Mel DeSart, Simon Linacre, ric...@gedye.plus.com, The Open Scholarship Initiative
What if the writer believes what they’re writing, but is hired to write by someone who knows they’re perpetrating a hoax? Is the resulting output disinformation? This is more often the case in science disinformation campaigns—where a credible-ish person is hired to make the counter factual argument and thereby makes it seem as though there is genuine widespread disagreement amongst credible scientists.

Sent from my iPhone

On Apr 6, 2022, at 2:21 PM, David Wojick <dwo...@craigellachie.us> wrote:

 Hi Mario, a pleasure to meet you. I too am part historian as my Ph.D. is in history and philosophy of science. I am also a Kuhnian.

Biagioli, Mario

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Apr 6, 2022, 6:34:22 PMApr 6
to Glenn Hampson, David Wojick, Mel DeSart, Simon Linacre, ric...@gedye.plus.com, The Open Scholarship Initiative
Yes, my vignette #2 was aimed at discussing the scenario in Glenn's email: that in some cases, the issue of both belief and intent may be suspended as a result of the professional identity of the writer.  If my job is to produce PR (possibly under work for hire doctrine) and I have neither a desire nor the skills to analyze the narrative I have been given and paid to write, I just "follow orders".  I am just a paid instrument.  So I can publish a lot of potentially harmful stuff without intending to lie or harm, or knowing that what I publish is false. I just don't know because I don't need to. And my intent is not necessarily mine.  It's whatever my boss has in mind, and pays me to carry out.

I am interested (and this could be a niche taste) in how the 'division of labor' and the specific professional roles of those who speak on these matters enable some serious ethical bypasses through the reliance of 'talking heads'.

In short, I think this type of "scientific communication" is profoundly unethical but am bringing it up here as an example of the limitations of using "intent" as a litmus test to sort out disinformation and misinformation.

(I also think that you (David) are crafting the meaning of "observation" very narrowly, to your advantage, but that's not the point here).

Mario


From: Glenn Hampson <gham...@nationalscience.org>
Sent: Wednesday, April 6, 2022 2:40 PM
To: David Wojick <dwo...@craigellachie.us>
Cc: Biagioli, Mario <biag...@law.ucla.edu>; Mel DeSart <des...@uw.edu>; Simon Linacre <slin...@gmail.com>; ric...@gedye.plus.com <ric...@gedye.plus.com>; The Open Scholarship Initiative <osi20...@googlegroups.com>

Glenn Hampson

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Apr 6, 2022, 6:53:39 PMApr 6
to Biagioli, Mario, David Wojick, The Open Scholarship Initiative, Mel DeSart, Simon Linacre, ric...@gedye.plus.com

Niche indeed, but important and relevant to our work here. If I may expound a bit, IME, the reality of science disinformation (or propaganda) is that Joe Average isn’t getting hired to be the face of the Big Lie. It’s someone who has an MD or PhD, preferably in the field in question. So at some level---unless this quasi-expert is incredibly naïve or self-absorbed---these hired guns must understand that their views are outliers amongst their peers, and that their sugar daddy isn’t paying them to advance scientific discourse but to push an agenda that has nothing to do with science. These disinformation advocates are not simple innocent bystanders, unless again they really honestly don’t get that they’re being used.

 

So, to me anyway, that pretty much explains why reputable scientists do indeed consider the PR work of “rogue” scientists unethical when it comes to issues like climate change and vaccines. Their PR work isn’t about the science---that can and should be debated through science channels like journals and conferences. Their work is about themselves above all else, and society pays the bill.

Joyce Ogburn

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Apr 6, 2022, 7:38:44 PMApr 6
to Glenn Hampson, Biagioli, Mario, David Wojick, The Open Scholarship Initiative, Mel DeSart, Simon Linacre, ric...@gedye.plus.com
While this conversation was going on via email I was listening to a conference on disinformation at the university of Chicago in conjunction with the Atlantic. I couldn’t write fast enough to catch Barack Obama’s definition of disinformation, but here’s the gist.

Disinformation is a systematic effort to spread false information. It also suppresses information and targets those who the person spreading the information does not like. 

I wish I had been faster in grabbing pen and paper to be more precise. The context was more about politics but not entirely. The context was about social media and broadcast media. It also referred to efforts by Russia and others to undermine democracy and the West, but didn’t avoid American media by any means.

Now his definition doesn't seem to fit exactly the conversation here because ours seems to be more centered on the actions of individuals. In Mario’s scenario of the work for hire the case might be made that the individual doing the writing isn’t culpable in spreading disinformation but the person or organization that hired that individual is. Particularly if it is an ongoing effort or campaign to spread or promote false information.

There are campaigns to spread false information in science in an attempt to derail or undermine mainstream science, play on fears and concerns, denigrate certain people or groups of people, mislead or cast doubt on the science, etc. Perhaps the context of where and how this plays out is important to the conversation. I have seen this tactic back in the day when I studied creationism and intelligent design.

Not sure if this helps or puts fuel on the fire, but I found it striking that I was listening to this conference conversation at the same time Obama was giving his definition.

One last note. There are now institutes and other organization devoted to researching and exploring dis/misinformation, so if we don’t solve it in a day, don’t feel bad! It is a very important topic that transcends disciplines and geographic boundaries and will likely take up more intellectual inquiry in more spaces. The potential relationship to openness is quite interesting.

Sorry if this is a bit rambling. 
Joyce

Joyce Ogburn
Professor of Practice
UNC Chapel Hill
School of INformation and Library Science

Sent from my iPad

On Apr 6, 2022, at 6:53 PM, Glenn Hampson <gham...@nationalscience.org> wrote:



David Wojick

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Apr 7, 2022, 1:32:31 PMApr 7
to Biagioli, Mario, Glenn Hampson, Mel DeSart, Simon Linacre, ric...@gedye.plus.com, The Open Scholarship Initiative
I am not really clear on the case you are describing but I think it seldom happens, if ever. There are lots of writers around who think climate alarm is a hoax and are relatively knowledgeable on the basic science issues. 

Polls consistently indicate that something like half of Americans are skeptics and I imagine a good fraction of those accept the hoax argument. It seems to be standard political rhetoric. It strikes me that lie, hoax and disinformation are making pretty much the same claim, but at different scales. A lie is a sentence or so. Disinformation is an article. Hoax is a project. 

The hoax claim is very common in the many thousands of blog comments, but that may be a self selected sample, as it were. The demographics of skeptical belief is an interesting scientific question. There are hundreds of specific skeptical arguments and I have no idea how they are distributed in the America, population.

So I cannot see why a firm would hire someone who does not know the topic and does not accept the hoax claim to write as though they did. Maybe an outfit that was new to the game, but the skeptical arguments are ready to hand, as are the writers.

Also such an article would be unlikely to be noticed in the flood, since it would not say anything new and interesting. I reckon there are at least ten skeptical blog articles a day, maybe many more. WUWT alone often has 4 or 5 a day and there are hundreds of blogs, plus many other sources. The science knowledge levels are generally quite good, by the way.

I should mention that I do not pay attention to who says what, or why. My study is the structure and dynamics of the issues. In fact I tend to regard issues as living things, with people merely being hosts, so they are of little interest. 

In summary I do not think the ethical issue you raise occurs frequently enough to be important, if it occurs at all. I have not seen it but I focus on writings of the skeptical experts. There may be another domain of publications where it plays an important role. Can you suggest one?

On the aside, if you want to call the global temperature estimates observations that is fine. The point is that there are competing algorithms and instruments and lots of scientific issues with these observations. The principle in philosophy of science is that "observations are theory laden" and that is certainly true here. The temperature math happens to be a special study of mine. 

David

On Apr 6, 2022, at 6:34 PM, Biagioli, Mario <biag...@law.ucla.edu> wrote:



Mel DeSart

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Apr 7, 2022, 1:41:08 PMApr 7
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Sorry I’m late getting back to this part of the party – I had a big project that needed to be finished and info passed along to a publisher before the end of the day yesterday.

 

To address your scenarios, Mario . . . .

 

  1. If there is anything false or misleading in the diagram the scientists create, and if they recognized that some of that info is false or misleading, then they are guilty of disseminating disinformation.  A mild case, perhaps, but still disinformation.  But I say “IF” to start that last sentence because I can’t tell from your description whether this is a case of disinformation or not, since I don’t know what went into “dramatizing” the diagram.  If there is NOT false or misleading info in the diagram (as in, if it’s perhaps a simplification of the overall data, like from not showing annual highs and lows but instead showing just a curve of average global temperatures in five year increments, which will smooth out most of the annual ups and downs, then they are not guilty of spreading disinformation, in my opinion.  As for the overall global warming question, global warming is a fact.  The data over the last 150+ years shows that the planet is most definitely getting warmer.  The issue (and potential question) is the _cause_ of that warming - whether there is a substantial portion of the warming that is human-caused or whether this is just some natural warming cycle that has happened in the past and will happen again in the future.  So if the presentation and diagram only address global warming without addressing cause, there is no mis- or dis-information involved because global warming is demonstrably real..
  2. As for the second example, I think we’re potentially asking the mis- or dis-information question about the wrong person.  Your description does sound very much like a “work for hire” situation, since the individual doing the writing is just crafting text that their employer wants them to write.  And you stated below that the writer “does not know whether global warming is real or not”, so the writer is not _knowingly_ creating and disseminating false or misleading information, meaning the _writer_ is not guilty of disseminating disinformation.  Since global warming DOES exist, I believe the writer is guilty of creating misinformation (because he was misinformed by his think tank saying that global warming is a hoax) and he in turn passed that information on, not knowing one way or the other whether it is correct).  But I would argue that the people who are responsible for telling the writer what information to communicate ARE guilty of disinformation, since they are knowingly responsible for the creating and dissemination of false or misleading information, that global warming is a hoax.

 

Where these scenarios would get REALLY messy is if you had introduced the issue of to what degree, if any, humans are responsible for the current instance of global warming.  THAT’S the element that is far more open for debate at this juncture.  Anybody who says global warming isn’t happening is just flat out wrong.  The data on that front don’t lie – average global temperatures have increased significantly over the last 150+ years.  Anybody who doesn’t believe that doesn’t understand the science behind it (related to one of the simplest and most uncontroversial measurements to take – temperature) or just refuses to believe the scientific evidence, just as some people don’t believe in evolution, that the planet is billions of years old (rather than a few thousand, as the bible would suggest), that we have successfully sent astronauts to the moon and back, etc.  But whether humans are responsible for this latest round of global warming, and to what degree they are responsible, is a much more unsettled question, and that’s where questions about mis- or dis-information would potentially get very complex/messy.

 

Mel

David Wojick

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Apr 7, 2022, 2:38:24 PMApr 7
to Joyce Ogburn, Glenn Hampson, Biagioli, Mario, The Open Scholarship Initiative, Mel DeSart, Simon Linacre, ric...@gedye.plus.com
Thanks Joyce. Re your "There are campaigns to spread false information in science in an attempt to derail or undermine mainstream science, play on fears and concerns, denigrate certain people or groups of people, mislead or cast doubt on the science, etc. Perhaps the context of where and how this plays out is important to the conversation."

"Where and how" is indeed important. We still do not have an example of such a campaign. What I see being labeled as disinformation is simply disagreement in the context of science intensive policy debates.

David

Glenn Hampson

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Apr 7, 2022, 2:42:15 PMApr 7
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All interesting stuff. As far as I’m aware though---and please correct me if I’m wrong---this dive into the nature of and culpability for disinformation is just a tangent. Disinformation is dis information---it’s an outcome. And if a researcher, lobbyist, politician, or average citizen propagates information that is counter factual, it is disinformation---full stop.

 

It’s necessary from a mitigation perspective to try to understand motives and such (and here again, look at the three articles I wrote recently for the SCI website going into the technical, social and psychological reasons: Why do smart people do dumb things? (sciencecommunication.institute). But when Jenny McCarthy and Robert Kennedy Jr. are perpetually promoting anti-vax rhetoric (rhetoric, not science), when the public is being misled by doctors who spread disinformation about COVID, and when facts and truth are under assault not just in science (evolution, maternal care, climate change, pollution, etc.) but also reality itself (elections, insurrections, wars, civil rights, voting rights, etc.), it is the crime of the century, David, to simply shrug our shoulders and pretend this is all about free speech and reasonable people disagreeing.

 

It is not. It’s about a disaffected minority trying to retain their privilege by fomenting hate, division and dissent, not as an innocent byproduct of how to interpret the facts, but as a direct result of deliberately promoting a version of reality that is a nothing but a lie. I think it’s entirely plausible that people who are part of this fantasy ecosystem or are surrounded by it can’t see this reality (again, read my essays), so yes, in a way, some may be blameless. But the outcome is the same----disinformation is as disinformation does. How we got there and how to fix it are important questions, but let’s not push the lie that disinformation doesn’t exist. That’s the ultimate disinformation deception.

Glenn Hampson

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Apr 7, 2022, 3:06:50 PMApr 7
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David---I challenge you to find these examples on your own, read them, and critique them. Just googling "disinformation campaigns" gives you hundreds of hits apiece related to climate change, COVID, vaccines, tobacco, opioids, and more---and these are just the hot-button science issues! (not even getting into EPA policy, elections, voting rights, LGBTQ, Black Lives Matter, school curriculums, etc.). If you don’t like the tenor of the first article (about your former funder), there are hundreds of other articles to choose from:

 

 

 

-----Original Message-----
From: David Wojick <dwo...@craigellachie.us>

David Wojick

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Apr 7, 2022, 3:23:33 PMApr 7
to Glenn Hampson, Joyce Ogburn, The Open Scholarship Initiative, Biagioli, Mario, Mel DeSart, Simon Linacre, ric...@gedye.plus.com
The problem, Glenn, is that the cases I am familiar with -- Covid (including vaccines) and climate -- are clearly not disinformation. The claim that they are is both a left wing and a right wing argument. Each side makes that claim against the other. 

But each side also presents lots of evidence, showing that this is an honest scientific debate. (The attack on Koch is hilarious. Pure politics.)

I have no idea what the opioids issue is, but if it is between left and right I expect it is just another policy debate. Tobacco is complicated and long ago, unless it means second hand smoke, which is just another policy debate.

Lots of hits does not surprise me. As I have said from the beginning, the term is widely used as a political attack tool.

On Apr 7, 2022, at 3:06 PM, Glenn Hampson <gham...@nationalscience.org> wrote:


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Biagioli, Mario

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Apr 7, 2022, 3:23:58 PMApr 7
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Hi Mel and David,

My vignette was a hypothetical, trying to capture one end of the range of possibilities.  I agree there are few people who would fit it, and do not know if the work for hire doctrine is ever applied.  It could, but maybe it isn't.  Again, it's a hypothetical to mark one end of a spectrum.

I wanted to indicate that while on one end we may have people believing in what they say (or knowing they are lying), acting according to intents that may be very different but nevertheless clear, there are also people toward the opposite end of the spectrum who may speak about matters of science without needing to know, and without really needing to have an intent either, given the fact that they are providing a paid service, thus acting according to the requirements of their job.

It is not crucial to my point that there are people who exactly fit the box I was sketching in the vignette. (Though I guess there are more than you'd think, and it does not take much to google those who write op-eds on these matters for WAPO, NYT or WST and see whether they have a PhD in physics or a BA in business or an MA in Ed).  

The point is that (and this is a hypothesis) there are many people in the middle of the spectrum, people who are neither completely hired talking heads (who spew out exactly what they are told to say), nor completely ignorant or scientifically unskilled, but rather people who, in one way or another, are in the business of communication and PR, feel they have to do their job, and don't care too much (and, more importantly, may not need to care) about determining whether what they say is true or false.  To me that leeway is a problem -- a big one -- because I think it escapes the framing of disinformation in terms of intent and knowledge.

To put it more bluntly, I fear that the opposition truths/lies or intent to tell the truth or intent to tell a lie is not going to take us very far. It may make us feel good and righteous but I don't see much progress being made.  My view is that the action does not happen so much at the "truth" or "falsehood" ends of the spectrum, but somewhere in the middle.  And by "middle" I don't mean "half-thruths" or "partial lies" but rather people who are in the position of telling full lies without having to take much responsibility for that. Professionally legitimate deniability of responsibility is the problem I'm trying to point at because it enables the production and publication of what scientists would see as irresponsible.

And so I was suggesting a different take (which may or may not go anywhere -- I don't know yet) and look at how, based on one's specific professional position and duties,  different people have to confront questions of the truth or falsehood of what they say (or their intent in doing that) while other don't.  People like, say, Marc Morano (whose claims I profoundly disagree with but whose performance I find impressive) have a hugely broader "ethical range" than a scientist (who will risk to lose his/her job if s/he lies). 

Mario


Mario Biagioli
Distinguished Professor, School of Law and Department of Communication, UCLA



From: osi20...@googlegroups.com <osi20...@googlegroups.com> on behalf of Mel DeSart <des...@uw.edu>
Sent: Thursday, April 7, 2022 10:38 AM

To: Biagioli, Mario <biag...@law.ucla.edu>; David Wojick <dwo...@craigellachie.us>
Cc: Simon Linacre <slin...@gmail.com>; Glenn Hampson <gham...@nationalscience.org>; ric...@gedye.plus.com <ric...@gedye.plus.com>; The Open Scholarship Initiative <osi20...@googlegroups.com>
Subject: RE: "Scientists must be free to communicate without politicians’ spin"
 

Glenn Hampson

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Apr 7, 2022, 3:37:22 PMApr 7
to David Wojick, The Open Scholarship Initiative, Joyce Ogburn, Biagioli, Mario, Mel DeSart, Simon Linacre, ric...@gedye.plus.com

An “honest scientific debate,” David, is one where actual science is debated, honestly. Almost all of the high-profile COVID debate with social media influence has zero to do with science and everything to do with quackery, pseudo-science, conspiracy theories, unqualified opinions, hearsay, anecdotes, etc. I challenge you to find any debate between two experienced epidemiologists with a solid background in stats and infectious diseases which has caused public disinformation. (Apologies Mario for lacking time at the moment for tying this into your observations.)

 

As for climate change and smoking, again, I challenge you to read more about the history of these disinformation campaigns. They are real, significant, and truly case studies in science disinformation.

 

I’m on the road now until tomorrow so apologies in advance for not being able to reply sooner.

 

Best,

 

Glenn

 

From: David Wojick <dwo...@craigellachie.us>
Sent: Thursday, April 7, 2022 1:23 PM
To: Glenn Hampson <gham...@nationalscience.org>

David Wojick

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Apr 7, 2022, 3:43:55 PMApr 7
to Glenn Hampson, The Open Scholarship Initiative, Joyce Ogburn, Biagioli, Mario, Mel DeSart, Simon Linacre, ric...@gedye.plus.com
I am sorry but you have gone purely political Glenn. 

David

On Apr 7, 2022, at 3:37 PM, Glenn Hampson <gham...@nationalscience.org> wrote:



Mel DeSart

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Apr 7, 2022, 5:46:18 PMApr 7
to Glenn Hampson, Biagioli, Mario, David Wojick, The Open Scholarship Initiative, Simon Linacre, ric...@gedye.plus.com

Hate to disagree with you, Glenn, but there’s one important word missing from this sentence

 

And if a researcher, lobbyist, politician, or average citizen propagates information that is counter factual, it is disinformation---full stop.

 

If someone propagates info that they KNOW to be counterfactual, it’s disinformation.  If someone propagates info that they believe to be true but isn’t, it’s misinformation.

 

Example, with me as the misinformer.

 

Back in January I read a story on multiple news outlets that Neil Gorsuch was refusing to wear a mask when on the Supreme Court bench, even though Sonia Sotomayor has diabetes and is thus at risk or more severe issues should she contract COVID-19 and because Gorsuch sits right next to Sotomayor.  I posted something about that on my Facebook page because I believed (based on seeing it on multiple new outlets) that it was true.  Turns out it wasn’t.  But I was still guilty of spreading misinformation. 

 

Mel

Glenn Hampson

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Apr 7, 2022, 6:46:58 PMApr 7
to Mel DeSart, Biagioli, Mario, David Wojick, The Open Scholarship Initiative, Simon Linacre, ric...@gedye.plus.com
Yep—you’re right Mel. Thanks for the correction. Dictionary.com has a very nice definition, the crux of which is that disinformation is deliberately spreading misinformation. So this goes back to Marios’s various examples whereby spreading disinformation involves some level of awareness and intent. 


Sent from my iPhone

On Apr 7, 2022, at 2:46 PM, Mel DeSart <des...@uw.edu> wrote:



Joyce Ogburn

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Apr 7, 2022, 6:59:38 PMApr 7
to David Wojick, Glenn Hampson, Biagioli, Mario, The Open Scholarship Initiative, Mel DeSart, Simon Linacre, ric...@gedye.plus.com
I can go back to my knowledge of creation science and intelligent design as a case in point.

Those promoting creation science / ID used language such as “even the scientists disagree whether evolution is real.” They would take out of context and cite a statement that illustrated a point of disagreement but the discord wasn’t about the fact of evolution but rather a different point that was not revealed by the citer. Another tactic was to place doubt on the evidence of evolution. One book said that a tooth is a tooth and you can’t distinguish difference in species by teeth, which is patently false. You can’t have evolution of an organ like the eye because it is so perfect and there are no intermediaries. But there are intermediary forms, and all sorts of vision/sensing in nature.

The arguments were made to undermine scientific evidence and process while producing no systematic or verifiable evidence to support their claims. The rigor of science was absent, but the power of disinformation was palpable and persuasive.

Joyce

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> On Apr 7, 2022, at 2:38 PM, David Wojick <dwo...@craigellachie.us> wrote:
>
> Thanks Joyce. Re your "There are campaigns to spread false information in science in an attempt to derail or undermine mainstream science, play on fears and concerns, denigrate certain people or groups of people, mislead or cast doubt on the science, etc. Perhaps the context of where and how this plays out is important to the conversation."

Joyce Ogburn

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Apr 7, 2022, 7:14:13 PMApr 7
to Glenn Hampson, David Wojick, The Open Scholarship Initiative, Biagioli, Mario, Mel DeSart, Simon Linacre, ric...@gedye.plus.com
Thanks, Glenn I found your link that includes creationism. It’s an interesting example for sure. Joyce

Sent from my iPad

On Apr 7, 2022, at 3:06 PM, Glenn Hampson <gham...@nationalscience.org> wrote:



Glenn Hampson

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Apr 7, 2022, 7:14:36 PMApr 7
to Joyce Ogburn, David Wojick, Biagioli, Mario, The Open Scholarship Initiative, Mel DeSart, Simon Linacre, ric...@gedye.plus.com
Full House (Stephen Jay Gould) and/or The Blind Watchmaker (Richard Dawkins) truly ought to be required reading in high school. Both are excellent primers on evolution and both discuss this eye trope in detail.

Another way that disinformation gets elevated is thorough our own naïveté regarding public debates. When we put truth and disinformation on the same stage, the false equivalency we create hurts truth and helps untruth. Bill Nye fell into this trap in 2013-ish when he debated prominent creationist minister Ken Ham on stage. Ham won, evolution lost. Today, many other science mis/disinformation actors use the same technique—Joe Rogan, Fox, etc.


Sent from my iPhone

> On Apr 7, 2022, at 3:59 PM, Joyce Ogburn <ogbu...@appstate.edu> wrote:
>
> I can go back to my knowledge of creation science and intelligent design as a case in point.

Joyce Ogburn

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Apr 7, 2022, 7:18:44 PMApr 7
to Glenn Hampson, David Wojick, Biagioli, Mario, The Open Scholarship Initiative, Mel DeSart, Simon Linacre, ric...@gedye.plus.com
Gould was one who was quoted out of context, along with another contemporary I can’t recall. I believe one example was whether evolution was gradual or punctuated, not whether evolution existed. Gould was a punctuated equilibriumist, if that’s a word.

Joyce

Sent from my iPad

> On Apr 7, 2022, at 7:14 PM, Glenn Hampson <gham...@nationalscience.org> wrote:
>
> Full House (Stephen Jay Gould) and/or The Blind Watchmaker (Richard Dawkins) truly ought to be required reading in high school. Both are excellent primers on evolution and both discuss this eye trope in detail.
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