« Google’s Jigsaw subsidiary will launch a campaign next week to tackle disinformation in Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic about Ukrainian refugees based on research by psychologists at two British universities. Working with Jigsaw, the psychologists from the universities of Cambridge and Bristol have produced 90-second clips designed to “inoculate” people against harmful content on social media. »

Reuters & the Guardian are too shy to say so, but the Bristol academic is none other than Stephan Lewandowsky, co-author of this paper in Science Advances, journal of the  American Association for the Advancement of Science : « Psychological inoculation improves resilience against misinformation on social media, » which is the basis for the Google campaign. As you’d expect, the paper cites a couple of other papers by Lewandowsky, including this one:

S. Lewandowsky, J. Cook, E. A. Lloyd, « The “Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: Simulating coherence by conspiracism.” 

That’s the one in which Lewandowsky, Cook & Lloyd prove that climate sceptics are incapable of rational thought because Christopher Booker once said something different from Senator Imhofe. 

The point of the Google campaign seems to be to stop people from believing that some Ukrainian refugees are freeloading in their host countries. What a responsible media organisation would do in this situation would be to send a journalist to the countries concerned to find out if it’s true that some Ukrainian refugees are driving round in expensive cars, that shoplifting has caused some shops  to put up “no Ukrainians” signs etc. What Google has done is to hire psychologists to show people “five short videos that inoculate people against manipulation techniques commonly used in misinformation.»

I watched this one on “incoherence,” because that was the subject tackled in the Lewandowsky “Alice” paper. As you can see, it’s dreadful. A grating American voice gabbles something while texts saying something else pop up on the screen and disappear. I challenge anyone with a reasonable IQ to understand it. You’d have to be a professor at Cambridge or Bristol to make any sense of it. 

Information videos are not exactly cutting edge propaganda techniques. I used to test stuff like this for the Central Office of Information forty years ago, when the government wanted to persuade you to fasten your seat belt, or join the army, or whatever. This campaign would be thrown out before it left the ad agency. 

But hey, this is only Google hiring British academics from top universities to tell Eastern Europeans what to think about a war we’re conducting on their borders. Maybe it’ll sound better once it’s translated into Slovak. 

7 Comments

  1. Geoff, I wish you hadn’t provided that link. I made the mistake of watching it. Suffice to say, I think you were too kind about it. My wife’s response was “that was sh*t.”

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  2. watched a few from the link – dumbed down or what – must be aimed at children – woeful, but standard for kids education these days it seems.

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  3. When one reads the Wikipedia entry for so-called inoculation theory, it is difficult to avoid a couple of conclusions:

    a) It is just so much nonsense.

    b) Its likely effect would be to entrench bigotry through further indoctrination, and so it is probably a good thing that it is nonsense.

    I was particularly struck by the following:

    “Due to the nature of attitudinal inoculation as a form of psychological manipulation, the counterarguments used in the process do not necessarily need to be accurately representative of the opposing belief in order to trigger the inoculation effect. This is a form of a Straw man fallacy, and can be effectively used to reinforce beliefs with less legitimate support.”

    That’s your cue John Cook.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inoculation_theory

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  4. I’ve been thinking a bit more about what Lewandowsky says about how hearing an incoherent argument is a sure sign that you are being misinformed. Since, in his view, it is only climate change sceptics who misinform, it is only their arguments in which he can see examples of incoherence. But is this fair? Take this as an example:

    Lewandowsky has famously argued that uncertainty is not the sceptic’s friend since a greater uncertainty suggests a greater imperative to act:

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26460108/

    He refers to uncertainty as being the source of actionable knowledge. He also incorrectly claims to have mathematically proven this without recourse to the precautionary principle, but that is by the by. The point is that he clearly believes that uncertainty does not give succour to the doubtful sceptic.

    However, he has also famously argued that climate change scepticism (or denialism, as he would have it) is having an adverse effect on the conduct of science since it is encouraging scientists to overstate uncertainties:

    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150507082722.htm

    But why does this concern someone who thinks that greater uncertainty provides a pretext for action? The incoherence is palpable.

    The answer, of course, lies in Lewandowsky’s half-cut understanding of what uncertainty is and how it relates to risk. But the fact remains that the guy who has most to say regarding the incoherence of sceptics is profoundly incoherent when it comes to his views on the central issue of uncertainty. According to Lewandowsky’s own guidance, I should conclude that he is peddling misinformation.

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