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The man who studies the spread of ignorance...

Stashed in: Truth, education, Echo Chambers!, Logical Fallacies, Richard Dawkins, Climate Change!, Viral Content, Cognitive Bias

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Proctor found that ignorance spreads when firstly, many people do not understand a concept or fact and secondly, when special interest groups – like a commercial firm or a political group – then work hard to create confusion about an issue. In the case of ignorance about tobacco and climate change, a scientifically illiterate society will probably be more susceptible to the tactics used by those wishing to confuse and cloud the truth.

Consider climate change as an example. “The fight is not just over the existence of climate change, it’s over whether God has created the Earth for us to exploit, whether government has the right to regulate industry, whether environmentalists should be empowered, and so on. It’s not just about the facts, it’s about what is imagined to flow from and into such facts,” says Proctor.


Whether something is true or not has little correlation with whether it will spread.

You are describing memetics my friend, second half of The Selfish Gene.  All hail Richard Dawkins.  He's on the Commonwealth Club tonight at 8pm or so, KQED or in person.

I've referred to people who fall prey to this as having poor BS detectors.  "Poor BS detectors" is my shorthand for A) thoroughly understanding memetics and B) having the skills, depth, interest, and habit of seeing through every single false pitch. First you have to believe in memetics to stop believing in the BS.

I need to learn more about memetics. 

So I can practice being able to detect BS. 

Elements of a good BS detector:

Learn to think of ideas and pools of ideas as memes, a la genes, like Dawkins did (published in 1976!).  Read his insight that organisms don't survive to protect genes, genes (blindly) implement strategies to help themselves survive and replicate.  (No real intent of course, mechanisms that work out-compete and replicate.)  Then you can see how the truth or value or anything about memes is an unimportant influence on their popularity compared to whether they out compete other memes and out replicate other memes using any means possible.  Donald Trump doesn't have to be right about anything, he just has to draw more followers.  A religion doesn't have to be good or right, it just has to attract more followers.  While the people involved should be exercising truthful intent, especially from the point of view of those outside their tribe, to many of those on the inside, the programming is so seamless and unexamined that they may be nearly as automatic as genetic competition.

It is very, very easy to see religions as collections of self-reinforcing memes that variously compete ("Atheists are the devil!") and replicate ("If your children aren't _____, you and they will go to Hell.").

As a culture we have enough understanding that overriding principles and awareness of human nature, including our automatic fallibility and susceptibility to sales techniques of false memes, that we should be relatively free from these kinds of influences.  Many of us diligently strive to be in a broad and thorough way.  Others do selectively for various reasons.  The tension is between a thorough education and deliberate ignorance and tribal segregation.

The single most identifying characteristic between first world and third world is the depth and quality of education that establishes a critical mass of the correct perception of reality, human nature, and various political, logical, and general memetic pitfalls.  History is a series of "they fell for this", "they fell for that", etc.  We should teach it that way more clearly.

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