First impressions count, maybe now more than ever. But what if those impressions are based on lies?
People’s willingness to believe even the most outrageous “information” they get is so remarkable that researchers have been studying this phenomenon — more recently given the current political divide in America — and trying to explain why facts don’t sway people’s beliefs.
It’s better to learn to critically evaluate information as it comes at you, argues UC Merced Deputy University Librarian Donald Barclay, whose new book “Fake News, Propaganda and Plain Old Lies” is being released June 29.
“I’ve been teaching people how to evaluate information for a long time,” Barclay said. “It’s about critical thinking. We’re all guilty of being snowflakes in some way, but we have to be open to having our ideas and beliefs challenged.”
The book is not political, he said, even though political disagreements seem to dominate American conversation these days. “Fake News” is about helping people find trustworthy information in the digital age and urging people to be more critical about where they get information and how they decide whether that information is true.
We have to be most critical about information that confirms our views, Barclay said, so that we don’t fall into what’s called “confirmation bias,” or processing only information — true or false — that confirms our particular beliefs. The danger is that we will act as though these unchecked beliefs are true.
“I think we’re going through an era in which our egos are being prodded — a lot — and there’s a real personalization of the news,” Barclay said.
It’s not that propaganda is new. People have been promoting their views and agendas, sometimes in misleading ways, ever since people could communicate. Making people afraid or angry is a fairly sure way to get them to take action, Barclay explained.
What’s different now is that it’s much easier to spread voluminous amounts of bad information very quickly.
“If one social media post hits, it can touch millions of people,” Barclay said. “And it costs almost nothing to produce. But we need to be rational thinkers in the day-to-day world, especially for decisions that have major consequences.”
Opinion should be based on real information, and not on questionable “evidence.”
“If someone’s going to believe the moon landings were faked, it’s going to be hard to change their minds,” Barclay said. “But we really do owe it to ourselves and others to get the best information we can before we share it.”
Beaudin Named Campus’ Second Winner of Prestigious Pew Award
Biology Professor Anna Beaudin was named a member of the 2018 class of Pew Biomedical Scholars, one of 22 early-career researchers nationwide to receive this year’s prestigious award.
“I am thrilled and humbled to be joining such an accomplished and talented group of scientists as a 2018 Pew Biomedical Scholar,” Beaudin said. “Receiving this award will give my lab the opportunity to dig deeper into how early life events shape immunity across the lifespan and contribute to autoimmune disease susceptibility.”
The award provides Beaudin with four years of funding at $75,000 per year. Beaudin will use the funds to study how stimulating the immune system during pregnancy — for example, immune system activity resulting from an infection acquired by an expectant mother — influences the risk for autoimmune disorders in offspring later in life.
Beaudin is the second UC Merced faculty member to receive the award. She joins biology Professor Clarissa Nobile, who became UC Merced’s first Pew Biomedical Scholar in 2015.
The Pew is awarded annually to promising early-career biomedical researchers who have held the rank of assistant professor for three years or fewer. Beaudin — who joined the UC Merced faculty in 2016 after completing postdoctoral work at UCLA and UC Santa Cruz — was selected from a competitive pool of 184 candidates nominated by leading research institutions around the country.
UC Merced Connect is a collection of news items written by the campus’s Public Relations team. To contact the team, email PR@ucmerced.edu.