The following is false:

‘The only thing we can do is to improve our critical thinking & media literacy, & learn what we must be on guard against … we can learn tools to defend ourselves in this era of rapid falsehood. We need to marshal our ability to think critically‘

Critical thinking, media literacy, etc. are very poor tools for defending against viral falsehoods.

It’s also awful & condescending to believe that viral believers lack critical thinking or are stupid.

I am with 's much less sanguine analysis in

"media literacy and critical thinking will be deployed as an assertion of authority over epistemology."

"I believe in empathy and building resilience… I relish people recognizing unconscious bias and grappling with the limits of their own mind. But I’m not at all convinced that asking people to strengthen their individual cognitive capacities will do a lot to address a complex systemic issue."

Media literacy is *interesting* and *worth teaching* for intellectual reasons, along with abstract algebra and Faulkner. But it's not going to cause people to re-evaluate their sacred cows.

I've been privileged? to see radicalization in three places:
- trump people vs the rest
- ISIS recruiting & innoculation
- Hong Kong, pro- vs anti-police/Beijing

All six of these factions insist they're using critical thinking and meta-analysis, that they're seeing the other side's (invalid) arguments.

I'm a programmer. Most of my waking thinking moments are spent ironing out in excruciating detail how to actually do something that was easy to say in words. I combat "Shit's Easy Syndrome" every day (

None of these factions can construct a real convincing argument against its opponent. Viral beliefs, like real viruses, evolve under intense pressure—their inventors poured all their energy, creativity, and intellect in making these beliefs immune to easy argumentation.


This notion, that you or I can evaluate the medical claims, is toxic. brilliantly illustrates this

"You learn next week that you have an endocrinological deficit that can be effectively treated but only if you submit to a regimen of daily medications. You certainly will do enough research to satisfy yourself—to satisfy any reasonable person in your situation—that this recommendation is sound before you undertake such treatment. But what will you do?" (cont.)

"Will you carefully read and evaluate all the studies that inform your physician’s recommendation? If those studies refer, as they inevitably will, to previous ones the methods of which aren’t reproduced in those papers, will you read those, too? … will you enroll in a professional training program to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills? … will you redo the experiments—*all* of them…"

"Of course not. Because by the time you did those things, you’d be dead."

Kahan's clincher:

"To live well—or just to live—individuals (including scientists) must accept much more [decision-relevant science] than they can ever hope to make sense of on their own."

Please rid yourself of this notion that you can somehow evaluate the science behind cancer or AIDS, behind climate change or nuclear power. That all we need is "critical thinking" or "media studies" to protect us from extremism, radicalization, false medicine, incorrect thinking.

And the most surreal thing is that the viral believers are convinced they're scientific—Kahan via

"[people are] experts at recognizing what science knows—at identifying who knows what about what, at distinguishing the currency of genuine scientific understanding from the multiplicity of counterfeit alternatives [unless there's] disruption to the system of conventions that normally enable individuals to recognize valid science despite their inability to understand it"

In this 2011 paper, Kahan et al. suggest that

"[science] communicators must attend to the cultural meaning as well as the scientific content of information."

That is, sugar-coat your statements to be acceptable.

For example, one strategy is *identity affirmation*, where, when your findings include something that might conflict with some people's cultural values, you show that information in such a way, or you pair it with another finding, that does support their views.

"When shown risk information (e.g., global temperatures are increasing) that they associate with a conclusion threatening to their cultural values (commerce must be constrained), individuals tend to react dismissively toward that information; however, when shown that the information in fact supports or is consistent with a conclusion that affirms their cultural values (society should rely more on nuclear power), such individuals are more likely to consider the information openmindedly"


This advice would have medical researchers' press releases, if they were presenting evidence against some popular false medicine beliefs (maybe something about cancer that assumes it is not primarily caused by fungus), also maybe include wording about how it remains very important to be vigilant about eating wholesome food…?

As far-fetched as this sounds, it's actually plausible and doable, unlike the original tweeter's delusions about defense against viral medical falsehoods.

@22 Waiting with bated breath for the punchline ...

@22 Sorry if this is a silly question but does evaluating the science behind something come under "critical thinking"?

@22 By the way, that paper is very interesting, thanks a lot!

@wim_v12e Took me an hour to track it down … hence the break in the rant. But I knew this paper changed my life. His blog posts are also very interesting and helpful:

Helpful in the sense of appreciating the intractability of the problem, not in suggesting any solutions. (In that way maybe it just encourages us to adopt a more Buddhist worldview that doesn't prize "fixing the world", as much as we'd otherwise want to…)

@22 @wim_v12e
great thread, thanks.

i'd like to think about this more. at first glance, though, it seems to me that this intractable problem is related to another one: the political crisis (high degree of impotence of the popular classes relative to centres of political, economic and media power).

if people don't feel they have meaningful control over the experts, why should they accept the knowledges produced as their own?

if that's right, then ’fix‘ => empowerment of popular organizations.

@wim_v12e I really don't have a clear sense of what "critical thinking" is except it's invoked as a critical missing ingredient by pundits like the original tweeter.

When I first heard a few years ago that a university was setting up a course on "critical thinking" to combat fake news, I was immediately suspicious because the conspiracy nuts I know aren't the least been uncritical. They subject each item on the crackpot buffet to intense research, and love to refine them.

@22 I suspect the term has become overloaded with a specific meaning. The Wiki page gives a definition that corresponds with my internal one, but I noticed that some people link it to critical theory.


I'm reviewing info about aflatoxins & wondering what the carcinogen example here means


To the broader point, perhaps amongst the most corrosive developments of the last 40 years has been the war on regulation, eating away at the idea that professional experts have any societal or at least fiduciary duty to those without expertise:

@deejoe oh, that's apparently one of the viral beliefs Mercola spreads, per the tweet thread in the original toot:

@22 @deejoe Aflatoxins are a well established carcinogen, but the idea that they'te sufficient to explain _all cancer_ is specious.
Amusingly, aflatoxins tend to be higher in organic food and very low in GE corn because fewer bug bites means less infection by aflatoxin-producing fungi.

@seachaint Wow, that's so interesting, in a delightfully twisted way!


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