Study: people who can’t spot fake news tend to be bullshit artists who can’t tell fact from fiction

Some of the findings in this PsyPost article — “New research identifies a cognitive mechanism linked to reduced susceptibility to fake news” — feels like a “Well, duh” moment, but it is interesting nonetheless because it confirms through an actually study what many of us suspected: people who are susceptible to “fake news,” and who overestimate their expertise on topics on which they know little about, tend to not be very good problem solvers and have issues with logic in general.

The article notes how researchers at John Cabot University (Rome, Italy) and the University of Texas at Austin tried to gauge what traits made people susceptible to fake news, and what cognitive skills helped people to discern what is real information, and what information probably needs follow-up or is outright false.

The study included 61 right-handed, native American English speakers, who were 25.5 years old on average.

The researchers used Compound Remote Associate problems to assess insightfulness. To solve the problems, participants needed to connect three seemingly unrelated words in order to find a shared theme. This type of problem forces individuals to think creatively and openly while relying on insight. For example, the participants might see the words “crab,” “pine,” and “sauce.” The solution to the problem is “apple.”

“Tackling complicated problems requires continuous reframing and changing the initial representation of a problem to see it in a new light (i.e., when we have an insight). Solving a problem, specifically via insight, entails generating novel and original ideas by exploring unusual reasoning paths, a skill that is associated with the ability to filter out irrelevant distractions which might bring advantages when reasoning about information coming from an overcrowded environment like the internet.”

“We hypothesized that such mental exercise — that includes questioning the status quo, considering alternative information as well as filtering out distractions — impacts other information processing skills such as assessing news veracity.”

The participants were presented with 20 news items (consisting of a headline, a thumbnail image, and a preview text) and were asked if they were familiar with the article, how accurate they believed the article was, and if they would share the article on social media. Half of the news items were fake. In addition, the researchers administered a test of the propensity to believe pseudo-profound bullshit. The participants were shown randomly-generated meaningless statements such as “Infinity is a reflection of reality” and asked to rate their profundity.

The researchers found a positive relation between insightfulness and discernment. Those who scored higher on the measure of insightfulness tended to be better able to identify fake news and differentiate meaningful statements from pseudo-profound bullshit. Importantly, the findings held even after accounting for cognitive reflectiveness, meaning the tendency to think critically about a problem rather than “going with your gut.”

“This is the first one in a series of studies where we look at parallelisms between cognitive and social rigidity. We know that problem-solving is a form of cognitive flexibility and expresses an overall tendency of questioning the status quo and considering alternative information when reasoning. This shape of thinking is expressed not just when we solve problems but also when we assess information on the internet for example.”

“The relationship between being a good problem solver and detecting fake news we found may also be explained by the willingness to invest time and effort in going beyond the default information. Problem-solving capacity may engender a greater tendency to question the information in news by investigating its accuracy further or by considering alternative and non-obvious explanations.”

Greater insightfulness was also associated with reduced overclaiming. In other words, those who scored higher on the Compound Remote Associate problems were less likely to claim to be familiar with people, events, and topics that had been made-up by the researchers.

The findings were published in the journal Thinking and Reasoning.

Of course, all of this makes perfect sense. Just in my own family I can say that the people who are most hardcore Trump MAGA are the same people who never seemed interested in the nuances of the information they were taking in, when they took in any new information at all. These have always been relatives who, more or less, knew what they believed and refused to believe anything that deviated from their own opinions, no matter how strong the contrary evidence.

There are lots of pundits who say that America’s deepest political divides are as much about tribalism as they are about actual differences of opinion, and once you are in, say, a right-wing tribe, you tend of stick to those beliefs.

But what the 2022 mid-term elections taught us is that Republican votes outnumbered Democratic votes and the reason that Republican gains were kept to a minimum is because so many Republicans split tickets by voting for what passes for “mainstream” Republicans these days, while rejecting outright MAGA Republicans when they had a chance to vote in races containing both. Some Republicans even split their votes by choosing Democrats over MAGA Republicans.

I’d be willing to bet good money that those Republicans who split tickets in this way would be the same people in this study who showed a heightened ability to tell bullshit from fact.

It also points to the importance in education in not just telling students what to think, but also how to think more deeply.

White House sticks it to that right-wing congresswoman who cried about the Respect for Marriage Act

It is a sad fact that progressive presidents will almost never get the respect they deserve because progressive reporters — most journalists in the MSM, I believe — are too worried about being accused of favoritism toward the home team.

So they will nearly always, unless forced to do so by circumstances, prop up bad right-wing arguments while downplaying progressive accomplishments. It’s how reporters prove their “I’m balanced” bona fides.

One of the things that Biden and his crew are better at than Clinton and Obama’s people ever were — and don’t get enough credit for — is in winning the war of perceptions. Biden and his people are not afraid of making the GOP look as foolish as it tends to be.

Or, as Brian Tyler Cohen notes on Twitter:

This is amazing: President Biden invited the gay nephew of the Republican Congresswoman who cried over marriage equality to the White House to watch him sign marriage equality into law.

Indeed, it is amazing.

How naming the James Webb telescope ignored important history around LGBT issues

The New York Times’ Michael Powell is described on that newspaper’s web site as “a national reporter covering issues around free speech and expression, and stories capturing intellectual and campus debate.”

But if you follow Powell’s writing closely, it’s clear through his choice of topics that his sympathies lie with those who think “wokeism” has run amuck, even as he buffers his personal biases in the anodyne language many mainstream media reporters use to seem as if they are neutral when they are not.

Powell clearly thinks that undergraduates and grad students at, say, Sarah Lawrence or Yale Law School being inflexible in their beliefs — inflexibility in personal crusades being a hallmark, for many, of being university students — are a greater threat to free speech than Elon Musk pushing a fascist agenda on Twitter. This is a hallmark of a different kind, that being the tendency of well-to-do white guys at the New York Times to see every bit of pushback against their beliefs and history as a threat to civil society.

Powell has piece up today that has great personal interest for me as a gay man who’s experience all manner of discrimination:

NASA’s decision to name its deep-space telescope after James E. Webb, who led the space agency to the cusp of the 1969 moon landing. This man, they insisted, was a homophobe who oversaw a purge of gay employees.

Hakeem Oluseyi, who is now the president of the National Society of Black Physicists, was sympathetic to these critics. Then he delved into archives and talked to historians and wrote a carefully sourced essay in Medium in 2021 that laid out his surprising findings.

“I can say conclusively,” Dr. Oluseyi wrote, “that there is zero evidence that Webb is guilty of the allegations against him.”

That, he figured, would be that. He was wrong.

The struggle over the naming of the world’s most powerful space telescope has grown yet more contentious and bitter. In November, NASA sought to douse this fire. Its chief historian, Brian Odom, issued an 89-page report that echoed Dr. Oluseyi’s research and concluded the accusations against Mr. Webb were misplaced.

NASA acknowledged that the federal government at that time “shamefully promoted” discrimination against gay employees. But Mr. Odom concluded: “No available evidence directly links Webb to any actions or follow-up related to the firing of individuals for their sexual orientation.”

Critics called the NASA report “selective historical reading.” And they reframed their argument, saying that Mr. Webb should be held responsible for any anti-gay activity at NASA and at the State Department, where he had previously been a high-ranking official.

In a blog written with three fellow scientists, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a cosmologist at the University of New Hampshire with a low six-figure Twitter following, said that it was highly likely that Mr. Webb “knew exactly what was happening with security at his own agency during the height of the Cold War,” adding, “We are deeply concerned by the implication that managers are not responsible for homophobia.”

This controversy cuts to the core of who is worthy to memorialize and how past human accomplishment should be balanced with modern standards of social justice. And it echoes a heated debate among historians over presentism, which is the tendency to use the moral lens of today to interpret past eras and people.

The entire way this is worded suggests, once again, that Powell agrees with those who think that Webb should not be judge by the standards of today for those things he did back when homosexuality was considered a mental illness.

But this is the same argument that some white racists have used to argue against the tearing down of Confederate statues, namely that we ought not judge former slaveholders by the standards of today when owning slaves was normal during a time when blacks were considered sub-human.

This is ridiculous, of course.

It does appear that there have been homophobic words and intent that were, early in this controversy, unfairly attributed to James Webb. Many of those errors have been corrected, though sometimes not refuted in as public a way as were the original accusations against him.

But Webb did at least acquiesce when the “Lavender Scare” was in full-swing, and gay and lesbian NASA employees were being forced from their jobs and careers and committing suicide.

That fact might be mitigated with the argument that Webb was a product of his time. But not by much. They were still being forced out of jobs by accusations that had nothing to do with their abilities as scientists and administrators. And just as with slaveholders vs. abolitionists, there were many people in the time of the Lavender Scare who were able to come to the fully rational conclusion that firing gay people because they were gay was immoral and unnecessary.

Some of those people were likely uncomfortable with the subject of homosexuality. But they also knew that what someone did in their private romantic life had no bearing on their ability to do physics. Yet James Webb, an educated man, went along with the mob.

Which begs the question: Why choose Webb at all? There are so many other deserving people for whom that telescope could have been named, some of them women and people of color. And none of those people have Webb’s baggage, all of which was brought to the attention of NASA administrators at a time when changing the name of the project would have been easier.

The reason it wasn’t changed is because the Old Boy network had decided to honor one of its own, and they were not going to let some inconvenient history, nor noisy activists, alter their decision.

Because that is the way the Old Boys Network operates. And trying to dress that up in arguments about free speech tells us all we need to know about Michael Powell and the people who argue that we should stick with the name James Webb.

You, too, could be a Washington Post columnist

It is a source of never-ending amusement to me that virtually anyone can, apparently, be a Washington Post columnist. I could be a Washington Post columnist. You could be a Washington Post columnist. The guy who screams at cars at the bus stop down the street could be a Washington Post columnist.

Because wisdom and genuine insight are apparently not the overriding qualifications to be a Washington Post columnist, as Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle proves once again in her first post-midterms column:

During the Republican primary season, Democrats took a big risk: They boosted Trumpist, election-denying candidates over their more moderate opponents. From the perspective of a coldly calculating Democratic strategist, this might have looked like a safe bet. These further-right candidates tended to be inexperienced and undisciplined, and their close association with former president Donald Trump’s various outrages would make them easier to beat outside of the Republican base.

But politics can’t all be reckless cynicism — that’s how you get Trump. As I and other critics pointed out at the time, screaming that Trump poses an existential threat to American democracy falls rather flat if you’re also helping Trumpist candidates get closer to positions of power, where they might be able to subvert our electoral processes.

Democrats were not taking the ordinary political risk of installing a bad candidate or two; they were wagering our country’s future to marginally improve their own electoral chances. It was a feckless and unconscionable gamble.

I am therefore quite distressed to report that, at least at the level of cold political calculation, it seems to have worked.

Sure, the cynical move paid off in a bunch of races and might have had knock-on effects down the ticket by discouraging moderate Republican voters — early Wednesday morning, Republican control of the Pennsylvania state house was imperiled. But there are two grave dangers in this kind of cynicism.

The first is that the cynicism will stop being a political tool, a necessary concession to human realities, and start being the primary modus operandi of campaigns that no longer have any real principles except “Give me power.” But the second is that pure cynicism will, ironically, not be quite cynical enough.

Poor Megan. She’s spent the last few weeks boosting Republicans with her predictions of a red tsunami, and hectoring Democrats about all the ways she thinks they botched the mid-terms.

Now that she’s been proven to be utterly wrong (a habit, with her) she’s bound to be a bit addled to the point of being unable to come up with anything mildly insightful to write in a pinch, except to lecture Democrats by saying, “Your tactics turned out to be spot on, but here’s why you should not have relied upon your winning strategies.”

This is, of course, the grand bargain that so-called centrists in the press expect Democrats to agree upon: Republicans can play as cynically and dirty as they’d like, and everyone just rolls their eyes and says, “Oh, that’s just how Republicans do things.” But if Democrats do the same thing it’s unseemly and beneath them. It’s also always a danger to the republic — as if responding to proto-fascism with a heavy dose of realpolitik is somehow a moral failing.

(And, by the way, since WHEN has politics ever been not cynical? Has McArdle ever sat through an American or French or British political history course?)

You see? Anyone can be a WaPo columnist. You don’t really ever have to be correct or insightful. You just have to be able to scribble bloviating hot takes and to never, ever, admit you were wrong save for saying you are “distressed to report” that you have no earthly idea what you’ve been writing about all this time.

Libertarian columnist Megan McArdle, whose chief skill appears to involve being wrong most of the time.

Turns out DeSantis is an apologist for slave-owning

This New York Times article about Ron DeSantis’s days at a high school teacher at a wealthy private school in Georgia contains mostly what could be considered mildly incriminating revelations — he partied at off-campus parties with seniors where alcohol was served — until you get to this description by a former student who is Black:

She recalled Mr. DeSantis teaching Civil War history in a way that sounded to her like an attempt to justify slavery.

“Like in history class, he was trying to play devil’s advocate that the South had good reason to fight that war, to kill other people, over owning people — Black people,” she said. “He was trying to say, ‘It’s not OK to own people, but they had property, businesses.’”

Given all that we know about DeSantis now, describing that as playing “devil’s advocate” is probably generous.

Talk about grooming.

I’d trust kids being taught by a school full of gay men’s chorus members before I’d turn a single one of them over a DeSantis-style teacher. Because if you think “property rights” are an effective defense to be teaching students about slavery, you are intellectually and empathetically broken on a fundamental level.

Europe is battling “semi-fascism” in ways similar to America

Europeans like to laugh at Americans and how stupid they were to elect Donald Trump. Some of that is well-deserved.

But we Americans are not alone in our susceptibility to the siren call of fascism — excuse me, “semi-fascism” — and right-wing candidates. After all, the Italians appear set to choose Giorgia Meloni who thinks Mussolini was not all that bad:

Meloni’s critics say the world should wake up to just how extreme her views really are, warning of a return to the dark days of 1930s fascism. Media coverage pointing out that Italy’s new government should be sworn in around the time of the 100th anniversary of Mussolini’s March on Rome has reinforced the point.

For senior Democrat Laura Boldrini, a critic and political rival of the Brothers, Meloni “represents the far right in Italy which has not had a reckoning with its past.”

Boldrini said: “Brothers of Italy is infiltrated by declared fascist elements.” The party “clearly wants a closed society that looks to the past while Italy needs to look to the future. Medieval times are over.”

And now the Brits are saddled with, inexplicably, a prime minster who may be even worse than Boris Johnson, as writer James Ball recounts in his article titled, “39 good reasons Liz Truss will be a terrible Prime Minister.”

The threat of right-wing extremism never goes away, almost anywhere in the world. Even in places that liberal Americans think are more civilized than America.

This is especially true when economic times are tough and people are susceptible to the easy answers of the demagogue and the scapegoating of whomever the political Right paints as being the enemy.

Vigilance and voting are the only answers to it, as tiring as the vigilance part can be.

It’s been like extremist whack-a-mole my entire life. You bat them down in one place and one election and they just pop up in another place and another election. Sometimes it’s the same people. Sometimes it’s new people encouraged by the people you thought you’d defeated.

They never go away. I think steeling myself to that reality has helped me to not give in to despair.

You do what you do, you stay informed and vote where you can, because you’re trying to keep them from completely taking over. Which they will do if the rest of us are not out there opposing them.

Semi-fascist Giorgia Meloni, probably the next Italian prime minister.

One of the right-wing’s most important money sources has dried up, further jeopardizing mid-term elections for GOP

The late multi-billionaire Sheldon Adelson revolutionized, in many ways, trade shows and casino management.

He was also one of the most reliable money spigots for Republicans and right-wing causes.

Sheldon Adelson gave more than a half-billion dollars in the last decade to GOP super PACs alone.

Sheldon’s wife Miriam is a bit of an anomaly in that she was an emergency room physician and substance abuse researcher before she married Sheldon. Although a right-winger when it comes to her native Israel, there were always clues she probably didn’t enjoy having to give money to, and rubbing shoulders with, the under-educated rabble of America’s right-wing GOP.

Well, now that Sheldon is dead, that gusher of money to the GOP and GOP causes has almost dried up.

Republicans aren’t seeing as many big checks from one of their most generous benefactors, creating a financial hole for the GOP just as Democrats get a fundraising windfall tied to abortion.

Miriam Adelson along with her late husband Sheldon Adelson were the party’s biggest donors over the past decade. But her only major contribution in the current election cycle is the $5 million she donated in July to the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC that backs House GOP candidates.

The couple, the largest shareholders of casino giant Las Vegas Sands Corp. and a long-time bugaboo to Democrats, donated $524 million to the party’s super PACs, committees and candidates between 2011 and 2020. They were high-profile backers of former President Donald Trump, who awarded Miriam the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2018.

But since her husband’s death in January 2021, Miriam Adelson, a 76-year-old physician, has largely eschewed the in-person events with politicians that typically conclude with big donations, according to two people familiar with her activity who asked not to be identified. Miriam, who spends much of her time in Israel, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Good for her. I’d stop giving money to the leeches of the American GOP, too, the second I had the chance.

Miriam, who never really liked leaving Israel for America, is no idiot. She knows deep down that if much of the GOP had its way, Jews would be second-class citizens. And the only reason many extremists in the GOP love Israel is because they think it will be the place where Armageddon begins.

If I had the chance, I would also decamp for Tel Aviv in my golden years. It’s an amazingly vibrant, interesting city filled with wonderful people. As long as you don’t piss them off in traffic. As you do regularly if you ride a scooter anywhere in Tel Aviv and the old city.

The late Sheldon Adelson and Miriam Adelson.

Judge strikes down massive gift Democrats in NJ gave to gaming industry

The sneaky sneaksters — Democrats, all of them — who tried to slip special tax treatment for New Jersey casinos into law, were rebuked this week by a state judge who said the law was passed improperly and likely violated the state constitution.

A Superior Court judge in New Jersey has struck down a state law granting Atlantic City’s casinos tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks, saying that the measure was passed on dubious grounds and violated the state Constitution.

The ruling, handed down Monday, deals a blow to Gov. Phil Murphy and the state’s legislative leaders, who fast-tracked the legislation through the Legislature last year. It is also a rebuke to the gaming industry, which had argued the bill was needed because it was struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

At issue in the court case were changes to a local taxing program known as PILOT, or payment in lieu of property taxes. Since 2016, instead of paying property taxes, each casino has paid a share of an industrywide assessment that was distributed to Atlantic City, its school district and the county to fund various operations. The number was calculated based on the prior year’s total gaming revenue. But last year, the industry pressed for and won a key legislative change to that formula, excluding online gaming — a fast-growing sector of its business — from the program. The alteration reduced the gaming companies’ total PILOT liability this year by $55 million — revenue cuts that disproportionately impacted Atlantic City, one of the state’s most distressed cities.

A conservative nonprofit group called Liberty and Prosperity 1776 challenged the constitutionality of the law, saying the state’s founding document bars preferential tax treatment. The state countered that the new law was exempt from that prohibition because it served a “permissible public purpose.” On Monday, Atlantic County Assignment Judge Michael Blee sided with the nonprofit, potentially increasing casinos’ tax bills and sending tens of millions of additional dollars into local coffers.

I haven’t looked yet, but I’ll bet that these state leaders — again, mostly Democrats — have profited handsomely in some way from the gaming industry.

New Jersey has a Democratic trifecta. Both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office are all controlled by Democrats.

Which goes to show you, that no matter how bad the Republicans are — and they are mostly much worse than Democrats in every way — there will always also be Democrats willing to sell out voters to large, well-funded corporations.

Start paying attention!

If I lived in NJ and my Democratic legislators voted for this, I’d have a hard time voting for them again in the next Democratic primary.

Two-thirds of Americans think Biden’s student loan plan is correct or didn’t go far enough

The Republican playbook since the time of Reagan has been to take a bunch of billionaires and use their money to elect pro-Wall Street politicians from Harvard and Yale, then teach those politicians to espouse rhetoric about their love of the working class and “real Americans” those same politicians ultimately despise and work against.

Ted Cruz is currently on tour saying about student loan forgiveness, “What President Biden has, in effect, decided to do is to take from working-class people, to take from truck drivers and construction workers right now, thousands of dollars in taxes in order to redistribute it to college graduates who have student loans.”

The New York Times‘ always excellent Jamelle Bouie has a column posted that reminds all of us how ridiculous this is for so many reasons:

Now, as I noted over the weekend, this way of thinking betrays an ignorance of working-class life in this country. To work as a truck driver or a medical technician or a home inspector or any number of other similar blue-collar jobs, you need training, licenses, certifications. People go to school to meet these requirements. They apply for the same federal student loans and take on the same debt as someone going to college. And many of these Americans labor under the burden of that debt because of high costs and lower-than-expected earnings. (To say nothing of those who attended college, took on debt, but didn’t graduate.)

The idea that student loan relief is a handout to a small minority of affluent college graduates is simply a myth.

But even if you put all this aside, there is also the fact that these would-be spokesmen for working-class and blue-collar Americans aren’t actually speaking for working-class and blue-collar Americans. The polls, so far, make this clear.

The first poll since the plan was announced, from Emerson College, shows broad approval from across the electorate. When asked about loan forgiveness of up to $10,000 for borrowers making under $125,000 a year — one of the key planks of Biden’s plan — 35 percent of respondents said it was “just about the right amount of action.” This might not seem like much, but then consider the 30 percent of respondents who said $10,000 worth of relief was “not enough.” Presumably, this group will support the current plan but wishes it would go even further — bringing the total number of supporters to almost two-thirds of Americans. Just over a third of respondents, by contrast, said that Biden’s plan went too far.

That’s right: 2/3 of Americans think that Biden’s student loan plan was “just about right” or didn’t go far enough. Don’t let the right-wing tell you otherwise.

You can read the rest of Bouie’s column at this link.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.), the Harvard-educated lawyer who falsely portrays himself a hero of the working class, shown as he was famously escaping to Cancun while people in his state were freezing to death.