Montana is a Democratic Party state, not Republican, contrary to news reporting

(Note – this post is about the media – not about the candidates or the political parties).

Actual headlines:

  • In blood red Montana, ObamaCare repeal to blame for close race”
  • “Montana house race is a gauge on Trump, test for Democrats”
  • “House elections to test whether Trump is hurting Republicans”
  • A populist test in Trump country
  • NY Times: “The Montana contest was the second special House election this year in a conservative district…” and further spins, near the end of the article, about Montana being hostile terrain for Democrats.

And so on. There are more headlines implying Montana is a Republican state. Except Montana has a long history of electing Democrats 3 to 1 over Republicans for Federal office:

The assertions made by the media are false.

The media has invented a fictional meme either to create controversy or heightened emotions or is trying to offer a crude explanation as to how a Republican could have won this race. This bad reporting looks like propaganda messaging.

The loser of this election was the media, for telling what is basically a lie. Except for NPR, whose reporting appears accurate and US News, which seems to have the issues sorted out. (FYI, I was in Bozeman days before this election.)

Not surprisingly, 2/3ds of Americans say they think the media publishes fake news. The first headline “In blood red Montana…” is a story written by a professor of political science, no less, which damages the reputation of academics as well. One would think there would be the slightest fact checking on such claims but the media leaves that up to bloggers.

About 2/3ds of voters think the media commonly publishes fake news

“Nearly two-thirds of Americans say the mainstream press is full of fake news, a sentiment that is held by a majority of voters across the ideological spectrum.

According to data from the latest Harvard-Harris poll, which was provided exclusively to The Hill, 65 percent of voters believe there is a lot of fake news in the mainstream media.”

Source: Poll: Majority says mainstream media publishes fake news | TheHill

2/3ds of voters think the media publishes many fake news reports. Sadly, many of those polled likely share those fake news reports on their social media pages!

Who knows? May be this news report based on the polling of the Harvard Center for American Political Studies and the Harris Poll is itself fake news! Now days, we have no way to know whether anything is true anymore!

Solar eclipse will increase fire danger?

“Drought over, but eclipse event will raise fire danger”

That is the odd headline of a KATU local TV news report about Oregon State. Authorities think more people will visit Oregon in the summer of 2017 because of a solar eclipse. Since humans cause wild fires, this will increase the wild fire risk.

To strengthen the claim, the local news story emphasizes:

“According to the National Park Service, 90 percent of wildfires in the United States are caused by humans, from unattended campfires, discarded cigarettes or arson.”

Source: Drought over, but eclipse event will raise fire danger | KATU

Wild fires are a serious threat to life and property and the majority of wild fires in the U.S. are indeed caused by human factors.

But two items in the story are misleading:

  1. The 90% figure comes from here. The actual percentage is 84% (and 44% of total area burned) from the PNAS journal article analysis of wild fire records from 1992-2012. This data point was oddly rounded upwards (0.84 rounds to 0.8, not 0.9) as the larger number has a greater emotional impact, a clue we might be seeing propaganda at work. Further, about 60% of the fires inside National Parks are caused by humans, which is not the figure you perceive given the quote above.
  2. In Oregon 48% of wild fires are human caused, not 90%, according to peer reviewed research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (authored by the same scientist who wrote the 1992-2012 analysis). Click on the link, then click on the SI tab, then download the supporting data PDF. Go to the last page of the downloaded PDF document. Search down for OR and read first 3 columns for % of total fires caused by humans or lightning.

Consider the above in the context of propaganda messaging:  KATU delivered a propaganda message that 90% of wild fires in Oregon are started by humans. This claim is not true for Oregon but is the number anchored in the minds of KATU TV news viewers and web site readers.

This propaganda could lead to state-level activism for increased laws, regulations and funding to reduce “90% of wild fires caused by humans”.

Wild fires are a serious threat to life and property in the U.S. and in Oregon State. The purpose of this post is to illustrate how the news media is an active participant in propaganda messaging and made no effort to verify the authenticity of the information and report on the subject accurately. And given the headline (most people read only headlines on social media!), how many will incorrectly conclude that solar eclipses cause wildfires? 🙂

(I notified KATU news of the above and they did not even acknowledge my note to them. I personally watched the May 20, 2012 solar eclipse visible in Northern California. Oddly, there were no concerns about eclipse related wild fires, even though California was in the midst of a drought.)

Google working to counter “fake news” and other fake stuff

Google wants to give higher priority, in search results, to authoritative sources. However, no one outside of Google knows what “authoritative” means nor how Google determines that information is “authoritative”.

How’s Google learning from the data to figure out what’s authoritative? How’s that actually being put into practice?

Google wouldn’t comment about these specifics. It wouldn’t say what goes into determining how a page is deemed to be authoritative now or how that is changing with the new algorithm. It did say that there isn’t any one particular signal. Instead, authority is determined by a combination of many factors.

Source: Google’s ‘Project Owl’ — a three-pronged attack on fake news & problematic content

Fake news, fake search results, fake online product reviews – everywhere we look, people are gaming the systems.

And incredibly, he is still dead 3 years later!

Twitter is today filled to the brim with tributes recognizing the death of Gabriel García Márquez, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.

One tiny detail is missing from these tributes – he died in 2014! And apparently he just died again in 2017!

Just when you think the social media mob could not possibly do something dumber than the day before, there comes the next day!

Easily verifiable items spreading like wild fire on social media illustrate the true, friction-less nature of social media for the spread of propaganda messaging. This also demonstrates how easy it is to say anything – literally tell lies – and get away with it – on social media.

Capture

As one Twitter notes,

Capture

A related question is why are so many compelled to spread this story?

A possible explanation is signalling of some sort. Could be virtue signalling or could be signalling to others that you (the poster) are intellectual and well read or something else.

 

Most car crashes caused by cellular phone usage?

I saw an item on a Facebook group where the general meme was that everyone knows cellular phone usage while driving is the cause of most vehicle crashes. The data, however, paints a remarkably different picture. Cellular phone usage, per the government’s own data, is a minor causative factor in vehicle crashes.

There are many causative factors in car crashes: one category of causative factors is “distracted driving”. Cellular phone usage is a subset of “distracted driving”.

The U.S.government’s National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a report in 2016 on distracted driving, with data up to 2014 (the most recent data available).

Here is what they write on page 1:

“A distraction-affected crash is any crash in which a driver was identified as distracted at the time of the crash.

  • Ten percent of fatal crashes, 18 percent of injury crashes, and 16 percent of all police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2014 were reported as distraction-affected crashes…”

Let’s restate this:

  • 10% of fatal crashes involved a driver distraction
  • 18% of injury crashes involved a driver distraction
  • 16% of all reported crashes involved a driver distraction

The proportion of those distracted driving incidents where a cellular phone was a causative factor is a subset of these percentages (see tables in the report):

  • 7% of 10% of fatal crashes or less than 1% of all fatal crashes
  • 13% of 18% of injury crashes or about 2.3% of all injury crashes
  • Cellular phone usage for “all crashes” (including non fatal, non injury) is not provided in the report but is likely similar to the two other categories.

The data provided by the U.S. government does not support the widespread meme that cellular phone usage is the leading cause of vehicle crashes. Is my interpretation off in space? The report uses remarkably plain language for a government report. Am I missing something?

Why do people believe cellular phone usage is a leading cause if not pre-dominant cause of vehicle crashes?  (This was the conclusion of those in a Facebook group discussing this topic.)

There is no official answer to that question so we can only guess:

  1. Selected (cherry picked) emotional stories are given widespread media exposure
  2. Bad journalism/bad reporting (fake news from “non-fake” news sources) – often using a variety of propaganda methods to convey this. One common approach in news reports is to quote an “expert” (appeal to authority) who says “Over 30% of crashes are caused by cellular phone usage”. This is a common quote in many news reports, none of which substantiate the number except by an appeal to authority.
  3. Propaganda efforts by the insurance industry to promote a reduction in risk (and their costs)
  4. The tendency to generalize from n=small numbers (I once saw a bad driver using a cellular phone, therefore most bad driving is due to cellphone usage, and if most bad driving is due to cell phone usage then this must be the cause of most crashes). This is a”logical fallacy“.
  5. Everyone just knows that cellular phone usage by drivers causes most crashes (both the assertion and the get on the bandwagon propaganda methods).
  6. If anyone cites the data in a social media reply, this unleashes a barrage of name calling (another propaganda method) that if you disagree, you are a denier, an idiot or whatever.

Facts and logic are the enemy of propaganda. When many people believe something to be true, and that “something” is not supported by official data, it is likely that propaganda messaging has been used to persuade the public.

All major media participates in fake news distribution

This is also true of CNN, News.Yahoo.com and numerous other mainstream media web sites that allow advertisers to display fake news headlines as click bait. There is no longer any difference between professional news media and fake news media.

An investigation found paid-for hoaxes about high-profile public figures next to users’ news feeds, duping them to click to alleged scam websites.

Source: Facebook promoted scam ads based on fake news headlines | News | The Times & The Sunday Times

Smart people more likely to consume fake news

“On the left if you’re consuming fake news you’re 34 times more likely than the general population to be a college graduate,” says Green.

If you’re on the right, he says, you’re 18 times more likely than the general population to to be in the top 20 percent of income earners.

And the study revealed another disturbing trend: the more you consume fake news, the more likely you are to vote. It’s “fascinating and frightening at the same time,” says Green.

Source: The rise of left-wing, anti-Trump fake news – BBC News

The BBC is a bit late to this story, having only just noticed that the largest social media-based, online, for profit fake news publisher is a Occupy Democrats that targets left wing enthusiasts with exaggerated, emotionally laden headlines and frequently false stores. Their goal is to target the emotions of liberal enthusiasts who then share the stories on social media, generating click throughs back to selling eyeballs to advertisers.

Many people think propaganda is a tool to manage “the unwashed masses”, but they are mistaken. Propaganda is effective across a broad swath of the population.

The late Professor Jacques Ellul, a French sociologist, found academics were among the most susceptible to propaganda. He suggests this is because academics are in the business of absorbing lots of information, much of which is unverifiable. They believe, he said, they should have an opinion on every subject and since their job is to instruct others, academics believe it is their duty to pass along information to others.

Ellul’s argument identifies the unexpected role that smart people often play in the consumption and distribution of propaganda.

For amusement vis a vis United Airlines, Ellul believes the purpose of “public relations” is to adapt individuals to societal norms by forcing individuals to conform. If you don’t conform, we will assault you – hah hah.

(Reference: Ellul, J. Propaganda: The formation of men’s attitudes. Translated to English from the original French text. The book assumes the reader is already well versed in the basic methods and usage of propaganda.)