Fundamentalism and Fake News

Fundamentalism and Fake News June 5, 2018

On the same basic subject as another post a few days ago, a recent study found that religious fundamentalists and other dogmatic individuals are more likely to believe fake news:

It turns out that people who “endorse delusion-like ideation” are more likely to believe fake news — as are “dogmatic individuals and religious fundamentalists.” “The vulnerability of these individuals to belief in fake news was fully explained by their tendency to engage in less analytic and actively open-minded thinking…” the authors write. “The present studies suggest that delusion-prone and dogmatic individuals, as well as religious fundamentalists, are more likely than others to believe fake news in large part because they exhibit reduced analytic and actively open-minded thinking. This suggestion points to potential interventions that may keep individuals from falling for fake news and lays the groundwork for future fake news research.”

Hemant Mehta also highlighted an article by Francesca Tripodi recently, “Searching for Alternative Facts,” which found a close connection between how people who are religiously and politically conservative read/cite the Bible, and how they interact with the internet and news sources. Here’s the pull quote:

They critically interrogate media messages in the same way they approach the Bible, focusing on specific passages and comparing what they read, see, and hear to their lived experiences.

I term this media interrogation process scriptural inference.

Mehta also linked to an interview with Tripodi about her ongoing research in this area. There she says:

I’m not saying that all constitutional conservatives even go to Bible study. But this practice of returning to an authoritative text and leveraging your own personal dissection of it, rather than accepting an elitist interpretation of a text, is fundamentally bound to this practice within Protestant evangelical churches.

There is something genuinely intriguing about this. At its heart, however, it seems that confirmation bias remains a major factor in the overall process in ways that are already quite familiar to us. After all, when liberal political sources are reported in mainstream media outlets and there are slight variations in the wording, conservatives apparently treat this as evidence of “fake news” and the sources are dismissed. And yet it isn’t clear that their Bible studies, or their own personal reading of the Bible, is exploring the differences both minor and major between the different reports about what Jesus and others said.

Be that as it may, this is a fascinating area of investigation, and I look forward to reading more about Tripodi’s research.

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  • jekylldoc

    Yes, interesting. One implication is that teaching critical thinking should offer examples from a wide spectrum of political views for critiquing, so that conservative students actually learn the skill rather than feeling they are being indoctrinated. IMHO.

    A little knowledge of economic principles can go a long way toward indicating leftish views that are laughably critiquable. Of course these days a little knowledge of economic principles can go a long way toward indicating rightish views that are laughably critiquable, also.

    • John MacDonald

      I think “critical thinking” is too often equated with “finding fault.” I used to have a Philosophy professor who would remind us before we wrote our essays that: “These Philosophers were great geniuses who thought about these issues their entire lives. If you are easily finding points of fault and criticism with their work, be open to the possibility that the problem is not with the Philosopher, but with your understanding of her/him.” I enjoy reading contemporary continental Philosophy, because the issue isn’t really trying to agree or disagree with them, but rather employing an arsenal of hermeneutic strategies trying to understand their extremely difficult texts.

      • jekylldoc

        As guidance for life and for reading philosophy, that works very well. My view of critical thinking is “overcoming motivated reasoning.” Which means you have to learn to test lines of analysis. My experience with the average college beginner is that they are intimidated by the possibility of testing anyone else’s line of analysis (unless it be about sport, celebrity or the plotline of a favorite TV serial) and need scaffolding more than they need cautions against arrogance.

        • John MacDonald

          I find that reasoning with the goal of producing a mere “I like this” or “I don’t like that” can be superficial. For instance, claiming “I like pro life because xxx” or “I like pro choice because xxx” in a debate that has no right answer is sort of pointless. In Philosophy, critical judgments usually have as their goal identifying presuppositions. So, for instance, Hume takes us on an interesting and reasonable skeptical walk starting from his own presuppositions. Kant, on the other hand, will find something in Hume’s Philosophy that will threaten to overthrow Hume’s project. It’s not really a question of whether Kant liked Hume or not (Kant emphatically praised Hume for awakening him from his dogmatic slumbers), but rather thinking the same thing Hume did in a more originary way.

          • jekylldoc

            That’s excellent. At the level of Hume or Kant, I’m not sure I could identify presuppositions, but I think I could find, or make up, plausible sounding arguments with identifiable presuppositions. Sounds like a useful exercise.

  • cdc3

    This blog post is indeed fascinating on several points. The first being the dogmatic-like assertion that,”It turns out that people who “endorse delusion-like ideation” are more likely to believe fake news — as are ‘dogmatic individuals and religious fundamentalists.’ ” People who “endorse delusion-like ideation” ? How is that defined as a meaningful label by people who have an axe to grind? All people have an axe to grind, not just “fundamentalists”. Science (so called) is built upon the ground axes of individual conclusions ultimately. It’s ALL opinion, like every other human thought, yet “dogmatic individuals” who buy into this analysis uncritically I would think tend to be “progressive fundamentalists”. This article narrows the scope of criticism down to the natural “opposition” the authors perceive to their POV, yet the process is really pretty universal.

    Years ago I worked for a company along side a manipulative individual who truthfully stated his modus operandi in dealing with the office: “First one there with the biggest lie wins”. He lived by that until another co-worker felt his treachery and tried to reach the inside of his cranium through his face. What this shows is that the knee-jerk response to news often depends on what we hear first. We ALL are subject to the biases we hold. Experience is the template by which we measure new things. Having an “open mind” is a deceptive construct aimed at covering the fact that no one has an “open mind” in the sense meant. A truly “open mind” has no template from which to draw conclusions. Better to acknowledge your bias and live by it, modifying it as needed when new experiences arise. But to deny its existence, to pretend objectivity, is perhaps the most dangerous fundamental bias of all.

    • Seeking to have an open mind in the postmodern sense is recognizing that one has biases, including biases that one is unaware of, and seeking to be open to learning from others. That is not something that characterizes polar ideological extremes, but is the exception rather than the rule all across the board. The fact that none of us can be unbiased doesn’t undermine the value of the attempt to be less biased and to counterbalance one’s own biases. If anything, this state of affairs makes such efforts all the more valuable.