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The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  161 ratings  ·  35 reviews
The social dynamics of “alternative facts”: why what you believe depends on who you know

Why should we care about having true beliefs? And why do demonstrably false beliefs persist and spread despite bad, even fatal, consequences for the people who hold them?

Philosophers of science Cailin O’Connor and James Weatherall argue that social factors, rather than individual
Hardcover, 280 pages
Published January 8th 2019 by Yale University Press
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Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
By modeling how misinformation can intentionally and innocently weave its way through the networks of scientists, O'Connor and Weatherall offer a model for the spread of "fake news" among the general population. There's plenty of solid philosophy and sociology of science here supported by a variety of current real-world examples attempting to illustrate the underlying theoretical models. Readers familiar with Philip Kitcher's more recent work and the fantastic reporting of Oreskes and Conway in ...more
Kressel Housman
May 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
The authors of this book are philosophers of science, which means they specialize in questions of how we know what we know. Their bias, if you can call it that, is for the scientific method. The thesis of the book, however, is that since people don’t form their opinions based on the scientific method, they’re easily manipulated.

The main point of the book was about how misinformation worked in Trump’s election, but there were more examples of misinformation from the history of science to
Jamie Showrank
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Kicks off with the vegetable lamb! Compelling examples describing how beliefs are shaped through trusted and propaganda systems. Incredibly informative and helpful for #behavioral #design. Will read again!
Sulpicia Cresswell
A really excellent and readable book! Professors O'Connor and Weatherall write in a clear and straightforward manner that should be generally accessible. The book is divided into four chapters each of which employ two to three case studies which talk about one aspect of the spread of false beliefs. They draw upon formal social epistemology, but ensure that complex models are explained in clear terms. The text effectively argued that there are several ways for interest groups help propagate ...more
Steven Cunningham
Aug 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Just finished this book, The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread, by Cailin O'Connor and James Owen Weatherall.

The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, a gourd-like fruit with an actual, tiny flesh-and-blood lamb inside, was believed by leading scholars in the 14th century to actually exist in India. It was a false belief, obviously.

Starting with this remarkable example, the authors ask what are the mechanisms by which such false beliefs are formed and spread, even among supposed experts? In
An overall okay work with some interesting anecdotes and useful explanations of different social contexts that can create misinformation.

The authors’ models on the circulation of (mis)information are worth reading about. Not all misinformation is passed around the same way, nor the same system of networks. The models are a useful benchmark to further critical thinking about misinformation.
Feb 07, 2019 rated it liked it
VERY "scholarly" and scientific - which is good, but didn't make for an exactly riveting read. Some very important points, but not much I didn't already realize. Ms. O'Connor gave a very good interview on the "Hidden Brain" podcast - search that out instead.
Jul 10, 2019 rated it it was ok
Lots of stuff about social networks and how the influence opinions.
Few case studies about scientific discoveries but mostly about how politicians and journalists respond to scientific findinds.
Not about science or scientific methods.
Everything is political blabla
No! Politics is the mind-killer!
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Jeez. They really, really want to be good at this, and they are! After the initial joy of an old-fashioned round of "everyone is stupid and look how long people believed in this crazy vegetable lamb", unfortunately, Misinformation Age finds itself with more misses than hits, at least for me. Starting from a counter-intuitive (scientists believe crap things) is good, and moving through the ways in which supposedly rational, self-interested yada yada people misinform and mis-believe themselves ...more
Tyler Critchfield
Jun 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Really interesting read - not meant to entertain and was a little heavy on philosophy for my liking, but I liked their straightforwardness. It's given me a lot to think about. I think the spread of misinformation and what we can do to help prevent it, will only be a larger and larger issue as time goes on. Here are some interesting thoughts from the book:

- "Many people think of individual scientific studies as providing proof, or confirmation, of a hypothesis. But the probabilistic nature of
Riley Haas
Mar 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a compelling examination of mathematical models about the way beliefs spread through human social networks.
The authors, two logicians, give us an overview of mathematical modelling of the methods by which beliefs spread within scientific social networks. I read a lot of psychology -specifically cognitive biases - and one of the things most psychology studies do not focus on is the spread of beliefs which are generated by our biases. This modelling is very idealistic and imperfect, but
The catchy title of the book is supposed to get at the bane of modern times, "fake news," but at its core this book is a philosophy book. It examines, discusses, analyzes our epistemology - how we come to know things - and then applies that to modern situations where the truth of certain facts have been obfuscated.

The authors make clear that the concept of fake news and misleading propaganda is nothing new, just that the means of distribution via our modern social networks is so beyond what has
Morgan A
Oct 01, 2019 rated it liked it
I listened to the audiobook which is high quality and I was able to listen at 1.5x speed comfortably. It was quite short and accessible to the layman, so I finished it in less than 2 days. I get the feeling there were diagrams in the text version, but they were described well enough that I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything. I had hoped the book would centre more on politics than science, but most of the examples were in the realm of science, medicine, climate change, etc. It was a ...more
Dave Cass
Jul 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a dry, but enjoyable read for those with a basic scientific and technical literacy. The authors follow a relatively consistent and familiar format that allows the reader to move through relatively easy: anecdote, explanation of concept, visual model, further considerations. This format covers how information spreads and the impact of scientists, propagandists, policy makers, journalists, and citizens on this process.

In this day and age, it is important for individuals to become more
Jerry Wall
Mar 15, 2019 rated it liked it
Subtitled how false beliefs spread. Basically, we believe things that suit our mindset.
There could be little doubt that human activity was capable of altering our environment at a massive scale, and so quickly that within decades we had substantially eroded our natural protection against harmful radiation from the sun, at least in one part of the world. p. 24
There are many examples of such industry-sponsored beliefs, from the notion that opioids prescribed for acute pain are not addictive to
Oliver Bogler
Mar 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
With a strong emphasis on science, it explores and explains how information travels through social networks, and what influences its movement. It shows how such networks can fail to spread the best information spontaneously, or worse under the influence of individuals trying to spread bad information. Using familiar examples it points to the key influence of trust and reputation. Some recommendations are made on how to avoid bad outcomes.

The book is well written with informative diagrams of the
Liz L
Mar 20, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nnnarg
Most of this book was interesting and helpful, but I was disappointed with the final chapter.

I read this for a book club we have going in my department, and I'm bummed because we're not going to get a chance to talk about the interesting stuff in the rest of the book because we'll spend all our time making dark jokes about what would happen to our careers if we tried to implement any of the suggestions for scientists.
Aug 05, 2019 rated it liked it
What I particularly appreciated was how they illustrated the different ways that media, scientists and bad actors influence public policy. This is very readable and if you're new to this topic, definitely worth reading; for me, there wasn't a lot of new information. It is a useful and well presented discussion that serves as a reminder of how misinformation spread can have consequences before I am aware that I've fallen for it.
C.E. Murray
Jun 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very interesting ideas are presented. A lot of it can be summed up by the Upton Sinclair quote "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it", but that does not do it justice.
A little less than half of the book is the endnotes and bibliography. It's important to cite one's sources, especially in a work of this nature, but still, the book was a lot shorter than I expected as a result.
Feb 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Extremely interesting. O'Connor and Weatherall examine the social effects contributing to the spread of false beliefs. If you're like me, you'll go in thinking you already know how fake news spreads. But by the time you're done, you'll realize things are way, way worse than you even imagined. True beliefs can still flourish, but it's clear they often get slowed down by other forces. Highly recommend.
Jun 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Generally well-written history (and, perhaps, guide) of how misinformation is spread, either intentionally or inadvertently by experts or by "propagandists". The text is a bit dense in parts, but not enough to interfere with the general message. The last section of the book discussing suggestions on how to combat the spread of misinformation wasn't very convincing.
If you want to understand why societies are getting so polarised, why people holding beliefs that harm them can be so immune to evidence, or what industries do to undermine science, read this book.
Jul 25, 2019 added it
Shelves: work
This book takes you step by step on how misinformation spreads.
Sep 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Tycho Toothaker
Sep 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really loved the mathematical models the authors used. Being an IR major I wanted to read the 'sequel' outlining policy proposals based on what they envisioned at the end of this book.
Nov 06, 2019 rated it liked it
An approachable discussion of how and why ideas propagate independent of whether they ought to. Interesting and depressing at points.
Mark Ainsworth
Aug 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quick read that's worth it

Not too much that a surprise here but the organization and tools to think about how info spreads is outstanding.
Leanne Ellis
Mar 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Sep 15, 2019 rated it liked it
I found this book fascinating and insightful about human decision making. But it was still a slow read for me and I bounced around to other books frequently while reading it.
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Cailin O’Connor is assistant professor of logic and philosophy of science at the University of California, Irvine.
“Whatever one thinks about the merits of Trump’s election, or of the UK’s exit from the EU (“Brexit”), it is profoundly troubling to think that these momentous political events were underwritten by falsehoods. And it raises a deep and unsettling question: Can democracy survive in an age of fake news?” 1 likes
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