Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Why BS Detection Is Next To Useless In Today's Internet

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As we've just learned about the secretly recorded conversations of Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, Alexander Nix, who claimed he had met Trump “many times”- we've also learned of the depths of the psychographic methods used to hoist Doturd into illegitimate office.  We also know another senior member admitted  the firm was behind the “defeat crooked Hillary” advertising campaign, adding for emphasis:

We just put information into the bloodstream of the internet and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again over time to watch it take shape. And so this stuff infiltrates the online community, but with no branding, so it’s unattributable, untrackable.

In other words, gestate a sophisticated mind fuck on an unsuspecting populace to effectively put a virtual thumb on the election scales for Donald Trump.  And we learned how -once infected by the germinated mind virus - they themselves become viral hosts spreading anti-Hillary memes far and wide, via sharing, likes or other more aggressive means. (Examples of which I will show later in this post). As Sen. Mark Warner - ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee - explained in an interview on Maddow last night:

"Cambridge Analytica is a pretty sketchy firm, known for not only operating on behalf of Trump but in other countries' elections. They were known  for their ability to disrupt the electoral process, and it potentially explains in so many ways how the Trump campaign crept up on a lot of folks because of their ability to use data, to use our social media companies. And use them in many ways that these companies were never prepared for. ....especially as Cambridge Analytica had a particular ability to drill down on millions of Americans, their personal wants and needs."

Caught on camera by an undercover team from the UK's Channel 4 News, Nix was also dismissive of Democrats on the House intelligence committee, who had questioned him over Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign. Senior managers then appeared to suggest that in their work for U.S. clients, there was planned division of work between official campaigns and unaffiliated “political action groups”.  In the end the implication was it didn't matter if the Trump bunch colluded or not, the political actions groups - by spreading virulent memes and conspiracy theories like 'pizzagate' - were instrumental in getting him into office.

Reinforcing this, the company’s head of data, Alex Tayler, added:

When you think about the fact that Donald Trump lost the popular vote by 3m votes but won the electoral college vote that’s down to the data and the research. You did your rallies in the right locations, you moved more people out in those key swing states on election day. That’s how he won the election.

Now we know, including how the psychographics work of Cambridge Analytica helped the Rs grab the Colorado Senate (by 1 seat) in 2016 as reported in today's Denver Post (p. 1A). Well, at least part of the covert forces that were responsible for the Trump takeover of our country, the rest being due to Russian help. (As Sen. Warner noted as well, the Facebook incursions by Cambridge Analytica were supplemented by Russian videos, fake news etc. e.g.

But let's be frank: The Cambridge Analytica operation was only a small part of the colossal clusterfuck that transpired with the 2016 election. As we learned in yesterday's WSJ piece, 'It's Time To Tune Up Your B.S. Detector',  p. A14, another huge reason for Trump's success is that so many in the population were plain gullible receptacles for "rubbish, nonsense and fake news".   That bespeaks the American populace's  lack of skill in spotting such, or to summarize it, "lies and BS".

The article also concedes that B.S. and false information isn't new, but alas, in today's social media environment the mind viruses are created faster and also spread faster   For example, the piece cites a new study from MIT published earlier this month in the journal Science. The authors analyzed the spread of 126,000 rumors tweeted by 3 million people over more than 10 years and "found that false news spreads faster than truth."

Well, again, not news exactly. Wasn't it Winston Churchill who once said: "A lie can go halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on"?

According to Jevin West, a professor of information science at the University of Washington (ibid.):

"We have reached epidemic levels of information pollution and we need to do something about it."

But what exactly?  The article expatiates on avoiding being susceptible to B.S. but how does one put that into practice? For example, we learn (ibid.):

"When people hear or see a false claim repeated even just once they are more likely to let it override their prior knowledge on the subject and believe it, according to two studies published together in October, 2015, in the Journal of Experimental Psychology."

I call these disinformation memes which amount to a form of lie, or again a deleterious mind virus. These memes or mind viruses also pack more punch, or enhanced mind fuck potential, when accompanied by imagery - photos. For example, let's take this debased one that's been making the rounds among the Right's lowbrows the past month or so - or since the activism of Stoneman student David Hogg has come to the fore:
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The image and the embodied meme are total, absolute bullshit.  Placing Hogg in the same image with Hitler amplifies the bullshit and the essential virulence which then makes for further circulation in the bottom dregs of the net, such as 4chan, Reddit,, Infowars etc. In other words, the same bunch that gave us pizzagate.

Further reinforcing the disinformation that Hogg and Hitler are in favor of "disarming citizens" is the given text which itself is just a pithy fabrication, or if you want - codswallop. Hogg, for one,  is not for disarming anyone. He made clear his support for the 2nd amendment in his appearance on HBO's Real Time a fortnight ago with school mate Cameron Kasky.  What Hogg is all about is getting the military style weapons like the AR 15 off the scene, which btw, are not protected anyway under the Second amendment, e.g.

As for the Hitler- attributed text, repeated thousands of times by yahoos across the net, there's no evidence Hitler ever said any such words.  It is possible, however, they represent a massively truncated paraphrasing of words directed in a different context. In this regard, in “Hitler’s Table Talk,” we find the Führer making the following statement in 1942, regarding the colonization and denationalization of conquered territories:

"The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the supply of arms to the underdogs is a sine qua non for the overthrow of any sovereignty.
So let’s not have any native militia or native police. German troops alone will bear the sole responsibility for the maintenance of law and order throughout the occupied Russian territories."

Which would be totally sensible in the context of controlling an occupied populace. I mean, why the hell would you want any of them gaining access to arms? But that has nada to do with the regulation or seizure of guns in Nazi Germany itself.  Logically speaking,  it is stupid because  - to seize weapons ("disarm citizens") -  the country would already have to be conquered. Germany was not "conquered" it was foursquare behind Hitler  (for the most part) in the search for Lebensraum (living space).  Second, if the majority of Germans had wanted to use their guns to fight the Nazis, they could have. But they didn’t. The ignoramuses that circulate that stupid meme ignore the fact  that the Nazis enjoyed significant popular support, or at least, broad acquiescence.  Given that popular support they had no reason at all to fear a popular revolt or uprising- again in Germany proper.. 

When the Nazis did come to power, they used whatever gun records they had to seize weapons from their enemies, but  Dagmar Ellerbock- an expert on German gun policies at the Dresden Technical University-   has noted the files included very few of the firearms  already in circulation. According to him:

"In my records, I found many Jews who well into the late 1930s possessed guns,"

This was confirmed by three former Wehrmacht troops I had occasion to speak with about the war and the Hitler era, when I traveled to Bielefeld (then West Germany)  with Janice in 1985. The three former German troops, a translator (Reinhardt) and myself had extensive  conversations about the war in the Teutoburger Forest,
Hans Borchers, the oldest of the former German troops,  affirmed he "knew many Jews who possessed rifles and pistols long after Hitler attained the Chancellorship in 1933".

The Nazis DID adopt a new gun law in 1938. Bccording to an analysis by Bernard Harcourt, a professor at Columbia University School of Law, it loosened gun ownership rules in several ways:

1) It deregulated the buying and selling of rifles, shotguns and ammunition.

2) It made handguns easier to own by allowing anyone with a hunting license to buy, sell or carry one at any time. (i.e. You didn’t need to be hunting.)

3) It extended the permit period from one year to three and gave local officials more discretion in letting people under 18 get a gun.

The regulations to implement this law, rather than the law itself, did impose new limits on one group: Jews. 

On Nov. 11, 1938, the German minister of the interior issued the Regulations Against Jews Possession of Weapons. Not only were Jews forbidden to own guns and ammunition, they couldn’t own "truncheons or stabbing weapons."   In addition to these restrictions, confiscation was also present, thus the Nazis had already been raiding Jewish homes and seizing weapons. But according to Ellerbock, also confirmed by Dieter - another Wehrmacht soldier:

"The gun policy of the Nazis can hardly be compared to the democratic procedures of gun regulations by law.  It was a kind of special administrative practice (Sonderrecht), which treated people in different ways according to their political opinion or according to ‘racial identity’ in Nazi terms."

In short, Nazi-era Germany imposed greater gun restrictions for Jews (and other perceived enemies, e.g. communists) at the same time it loosened gun restrictions for other groups.  German citizens as a whole were not disarmed by the Nazis. Jews and other supposed enemies of the state were subject to having their weapons seized. But for most German citizens, the Nazi period was one in which gun regulations were loosened, not tightened.

The above discourse is merely meant to show how a B.S. or fake historical idiom can be generated whether via carelessness, ignorance or intent.   In the first and second cases we can regard the mind virus as more incidental than weaponized. But if it spreads it has the same punch as if weaponized (For example, photo-shopped images showing Hitler putting his arm on the shoulders of David Hogg  - as if to support his activism.. This again is pure B.S. spread by ignorant yahoos.)

The desperation with which these lowbrow lowlifes are attempting to smear Hogg and his student associates is also embodied in other disinformation they've tried to spread. One example comes from the actor James Woods - who once played Roy Cohn, the degenerate attorney pal  of Trump's who tried to bring down Larry Flynt in a criminal law suit. Woods has actually fired off texts and tweets that Hogg is like the Hitler Youth who reported on their parents if they so much as talked about guns, or tried to smuggle any into the home.  This again is total bullshit, which my late friend (and former Hitler Youth) Kurt Braun put down way back in 1978 when we saw him in Frankfurt-Am-Main:
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Kurt still had photos from the 1930s-early 40s of his home that featured rifles mounted on the walls.

"Didn't Hitler seize all those guns at the time?" I asked him.

"Ach!  Nein! What kind of schwein hund told you that? We could keep all the guns we wanted! We weren't Jewish after all!"  (Kurt's family used the rifles to hunt Wild Boar.)

He basically reiterated the points made earlier on the history of weapons regulations in the Reich.  Woods' B.S. elicits the question of why he'd try to spread it.  In the case of the WSJ article we understand that such B.S. tends to be generated when:

"People feel obligated to have an opinion about something they know little about."

So, because certain Reich wing bloggers are upset by Hogg's student activism, and they may have seen or been told Hitler wanted to "take guns" from Germans, they concoct the B.S. that Hogg is a "useful idiot" for Hitler types (usually "Left Nazis")  and then invent images like that shown which they ignorantly spread to other ignoramuses who then spread them to others. In this way a similar mind virus "epidemic" is created to what the tools of Cambridge Analytica did.

In another version of the desperation to impugn Hogg,  some dolts try to tie him to one of the leaders of the Women's March (Linda Sarsour) who also helped to organize the student's walkout March 14th.  They claim Linda Sarsour is a fan of "cop killers"  because she once made some remarks that were construed that way. In any case, even if she did make some extreme remarks, the dolts fail to note the association is only incidental . Hogg doesn't even know Sarsour- never met her - and besides,  the actual effort by Hogg and Co. is this Saturday for the "March for Our Lives".  But again, because the lowlifes were unable to tar Hogg with the "child actors"  tripe, they are now attempting to use incidental associations to bring him and his fellow Stoneman survivors down. Can you say 'sick'?

This begs the question of whether B.S. and mind viruses can be reined in using "B.S. detectors" which are "tuned". I would like to believe this, but I doubt it.  There are two reasons for this: 1) The Dunning Kruger effect which has captivated a significant segment of the populace, and 2) the gross lack of knowledge- especially historical, concerning so many things.

In the case of the last, we are informed by Lisa Fazio - a professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt that (ibid.):

"It's easier to accept things especially when repeated because it's easier to process the second time you year or see it.  It is also time consuming and difficult to access one's previous knowledge so we go along with information if we think it's close enough".

But that could be a serious mistake as I showed above with the alleged Hitler quote:  "To conquer a nation you must first disarm its citizens".  So Prof. Fazio is saying that it's much easier to just accept the quotation as is than to do the scut work to ferret it out, historically or logically - or by talking to actual German sources who lived at the time.

Then there is the prevalence of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. An article by Dunning, “We Are All Confident Idiots,” provides both humorous and serious examples showing just how pervasive the problem is and it certainly transcends all age groups as well as disciplines.   In at least one aspect the false knowledge syndrome dovetails with Dunning -Kruger. Easily seen if one goes through the New York Times' comments sections for any given article, wherein one can see hundreds of spurious conclusions based on sketchy knowledge. However, the paradox is the Dunning -Kruger subject will apply none of the criteria to himself, i.e. in highlighting his shortcomings. As far as he is concerned, he has none. By the same token, the false knowledge adherent can't conceive that the knowledge which he possesses is actually inferior to the knowledge of most well educated people.

In like manner, too many global warming deniers suffer from the same syndrome. Devoid of sufficient background knowledge-  say of thermal physics -  they are convinced they can  simply opine on issues outside their specialty fields like global warming - or the alleged absence for it- without doing any hard work or proper research.  They believe they can simply bloviate from their armchairs or keyboards.   

Related to the preceding is what philosopher George Lakoff cites as the concept of hypocognition— i.e. that “we don’t have all the ideas we need.” One example he cited was the concept of reflexivity, “the fact that thought is part of the world. That when you’re thinking, it’s not separate from reality, it’s part of reality. And if your understanding of the world is reflected in what you do, then that thought comes into the world through your actions.”.

Take the Stoneman Douglas students  for their newfound activism and eloquence in speaking truth to power.   Many if not most who criticize them are simply unable to see themselves at the same age doing those things, or even being coherent in front of cameras. The bugbear in their heads is: "If I couldn't do that why should I believe they can?"

Lakoff’s discussion of hypocognition naturally comes to mind here.  What could be a worse idea to miss than the very idea of missing ideas?  If you don’t think the possibility for articulate and confident kids exists, you’ll never go looking for them—never believe anyone who behaves this way, either. If you honestly don't  believe there can be such things as confident, articulate student activists- then you will always believe they must be actors - i.e. kids who left school (like many nitwits claim Hogg did) and are now coming back act. 

If you can't take Hogg down to size with that B.S. then the next tack is to delegitimize him and his fellow students using tarring by associations, e.g. with Linda Sarsour, the Women's March organizer.  If you can't do that, well then use photo-shopped images of Hogg with Hitler. In other words, try every sordid trick in the books to force your stew of sliming into the open to try to spread it.

My pessimism of B.S. detection is based principally on the fact too many - especially on the Right- are unwilling to use it to come to the truth. They are too invested in bringing those with whom they disagree down, and that means no interest in either furthering their own knowledge, or abandoning the fact they are themselves "confident idiots" to use the phrase of  Dunning.

See also:


The problem with misdirected anger is that it leads to misdirected policies that could undermine the internet’s capacity to catalyze much-needed social change. We need to ensure that when we think about internet policy we think about it with a political lens: how can we ensure the internet will enable us as citizens to share ideas freely, coordinate around common interests, and act in defense of our rights and interests? How can we ensure that people are afforded these conversations as a right today and in the future? How can we ensure these protections even in scenarios where the powers-that-be feel profoundly challenged by people’s capacity to coordinate?

If we accept that the internet has become a key tool for politics in this broad sense of the term, we can see the internet is indeed facing a problem. A problem that is often neglected for being less tangible, but that underlies much of what concerns the public about the internet. A problem that not only reflects but can reinforce current social problems, and frustrate the goal of ensuring meaningful political participation: centralization.

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