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The Big Answer


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Fake News, Propaganda, and Plain Old Lies: How to Find Trustworthy Information in the Digital Age

a book by Donald A. Barclay

(our site's book review)

Learn How to Identify the Alarm Bells That Signal Untrustworthy Information

The Amazon blurb says that Are you overwhelmed at the amount, contradictions, and craziness of all the information coming at you in this age of social media and twenty-four-hour news cycles?

Fake News, Propaganda, and Plain Old Lies: How to Find Trustworthy Information in the Digital Age will show you how to identify deceptive information as well as how to seek out the most trustworthy information in order to inform decision making in your personal, academic, professional, and civic lives.

Inoculate yourself against the logical fallacies that can mislead even the brightest among us
Inoculate yourself against the logical fallacies that can mislead even the brightest among us

Barclay Has Spent Decades Teaching University Students to Become Information Literate

Donald A. Barclay, a career librarian who has spent decades teaching university students to become information literate scholars and citizens, takes an objective, non-partisan approach to the complex and nuanced topic of sorting deceptive information from trustworthy information. Fake News, Propaganda, and Plain Old Lies: How to Find Trustworthy Information in the Digital Age has these chapters:

Acknowledgments

  1. Credible Information: Why It Matters, What Are Its Limitations
  2. Fake News as Phenomenon: (Almost) Nothing New Under the Sun
  3. Tricks of the Trade: Techniques That Lower Your Information Guard
  4. Logical Fallacies: More Tools of Deception
  5. Evaluating an Information Source: Nine Essential Questions Everyone Should Ask
  6. Power in Numbers: Negotiating the Statistics Mine?eld
  7. Scholar Information: Identifying, Evaluating and Understanding It
  8. Help Is Where You Find It: Resources for Evaluating Information
Final Thoughts


Barclay Shows How Statistics Can Be Used Either to Illuminate or to Obfuscate

Chapter 6 illustrates how statistics can be used either to illuminate or to obfuscate.

Here, similar quantities' differences are magnified—note the Y axis begins at 9100
Here, similar quantities' differences are magnified—note the Y axis begins at 9100


Here, similar quantities' differences are minimized—note the Y axis begins at 0 (this graph is more honest—it does not obfuscate)
Here, similar quantities' differences are minimized—note the Y axis begins at 0 (this graph is more honest—it does not obfuscate)


This graph about family wealth exposes the way the elites have screwed the non-elites since 1989; its Y axis begins at 0 also
This graph about family wealth exposes the way the elites have screwed the non-elites since 1989; its Y axis begins at 0 also


Trump called his tax plan a Christmas present for the middle class. Like much of what this truth challenged President says, this is fake news:

Trump and his Republican sycophants are setting up the economy so the middle class pay relatively more in taxes than the wealthy compared to previously, and corporations pay vastly less than before
Trump and his Republican sycophants are setting up the economy so the middle class pay relatively more in taxes than the wealthy compared to previously, and corporations pay vastly less than before

Fake News Has the Potential to Inflict Terrible Harm on Individuals and Societies

Fake news has the potential to inflict terrible harm on individuals and societies, as the author makes clear in his well-researched book, so learning how to spot it turns out to not only be very important to information literacy but to health, happiness, peace, politics, security and the U.S. debt load.

What fake news and propaganda can do:

Despite multiple studies showing that carbohydrates hurt your heart, and not saturated fats, misguided advisories and Big Pharma profiteering both persist, thanks to the lack of integrity of one Dr. Ancel Keys, whose "scientific" methods were seriously flawed. He cherry-picked data and ignored data not supporting his hypothesis. A dieting industry championing low-fat diets and low-fat food sprang up and for decades, more and more bad health and diabetes and heart attacks were the deadly result.

Fat and cholesterol are bad is a careless hypothesis which is all wrong. But carbohydrates and sugar are bad turns out to be proven fact. The old food pyramid is all wrong as well. The current obesity epidemic and type-2 diabetes epidemic are also the handiwork of an increased carbohydrate intake that has replaced fats in people’s diets, due to Keys' horrible advice. What ever happened to First, Do No Harm in the Hippocratic Oath?

Propaganda about mushroom clouds over Manhattan and fake news evidence about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) pushed us into an eternal war in the Middle East, beginning with Iraq
Propaganda about mushroom clouds over Manhattan and fake news evidence about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) pushed us into an eternal war in the Middle East, beginning with Iraq

Propaganda about mushroom clouds over Manhattan and fake news evidence about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) pushed us into an eternal war in the Middle East, beginning with Iraq. The amount of money we've wasted, debt we've incurred, people killed or maimed—is almost unfathomable. All due to fake news and propaganda for the purpose of Bush getting his greedy paws on their oil and Cheney's Halliburton profiteering both during the destruction and reconstruction phases of that immoral invasion.

Fake news was often encountered more often than real news in the run-up to the 2016 election. Although Facebook, Twitter, and Google deny it, many believe that this is what screwed Hillary out of the election victory which mainstream media had predicted she would easily win, although others give about 10 main ways in which she shot herself in the foot and she lost from her own mistakes. Obviously, the guy that showed up at the pizza parlor with a rifle and started shooting was very convinced about the fake news of Hillary running a child sex ring in its basement (it turned out to not have a basement).

Many people give about 10 main ways in which Hillary shot herself in the foot and she therefore lost from her own mistakes, not due to fake news
Many people give about 10 main ways in which Hillary shot herself in the foot and she therefore lost from her own mistakes, not due to fake news

What Others Say

[Barclay's] chapter on fake news provides a clear and succinct overview of the not-so-new phenomenon and the factors that have contributed to its recent proliferation (e.g., information overload, search engine optimization, and political bots). And his evaluation (and endorsement) of Wikipedia as a viable information source is spot-on.—Publishers Weekly

The callout section on the Dunning-Kruger effect (inadvertently) explains much of what’s happening in America’s political climate; readers will find it chilling. Additionally helpful are chapters devoted to finding and evaluating scholarly information and a list of helpful resources—turns out there are a lot more options than just Snopes.com. Librarians may find this a useful resource, but it should be read by anyone who wants to better understand fake news and to better discern its presence and defend oneself against it. Barclay addresses this timely topic in a readable manner, free from jargon.—Booklist

This book provides readable, practical guidance from a librarian and scholar of information literacy on understanding the trustworthiness of information in an era of fake facts. In Fake News, Propaganda, and Plain Old Lies: How to Find Trustworthy Information in the Digital Age, Donald Barclay provides useful information about the tricks such as logical and statistical fallacies used to create false facts. The book will provide value to high school teachers, undergraduate teachers and students, librarians, and parents who want to guide young people and the general public to being information-literate.—William Aspray, professor, Information Science, University of Colorado Boulder


The Author's Brilliant Use of an Alternative History about Smoking and Health Was Immensely Effective

We found the author's brilliant use of an alternative history about smoking and health to be immensely effective. This alone was well worth the price of the book. In fact, it was the most insightful use of a hypothetical scenario we've ever read in our entire lives. The hypothetical scenario was one in which the digital age was already in force in 1964 when the Surgeon General's report came out showing the harm smoking does. In predigital 1964, the report, in fact, started a long process of reform going where there were warnings, regulations, public service announcements, and celebrity "stop smoking" messages as well as better laws about smoking in planes and restaurants.

But the author's brilliant use of the alternative history allowed us to visualize a digital 1964 (there was, of course, no such thing in 1964) and there were liars and fake news wizards and misinformation and an unlimited budget from Big Tobacco and the end result was that science and facts were ridiculed and smokers learned that their vice was harmless. Barclay has shown that Big Tobacco—if the Surgeon General's report came out in 2018—would cruxify the anti-smoking faction, kill careers and hopes and reputations of many scientists and advocates, and the health of billions of people around the planet would be severely compromised, including second-hand smoke victims.


We look around at the wars we do not want to fight but we have to anyway because our corrupt leaders say we do, and we cringe as our young get used as cannon fodder—for what?
We look around at the wars we do not want to fight but we have to anyway because our corrupt leaders say we do, and we cringe as our young get used as cannon fodder—for what?

The implications of our 2018 society being unable to use facts and truth to deal with a serious health issue hits home brilliantly due to the author's convincing scenario. And then a chill goes through us as we realize that this same dystopian scenario is actually occuring today only with climate change and Big Oil rather than smoking and Big Tobacco, thereby sabotaging our ability to be both proactive and remedial.

If we look around at the wars we do not want to fight but we have to anyway because our leaders say we do in spite of the fact that they have been proven to be increasing terrorism, not decreasing it, a similar chill goes through us as we realize that we are stuck with wars not because of safety and security or a need for a War on Terror but to enrich some neocon oligarchs who are laughing all the way to the bank. If we cannot have a nation that believes in truth, facts, and reality, then we'll be a nation totally at the mercy of greedy rich oligarchs who do whatever they want.

The War on Terror isn't for our safety but to enrich some rich neocon oligarchs who are laughing all the way to the bank
The War on Terror isn't for our safety but to enrich some rich neocon oligarchs who are laughing all the way to the bank

If We Cannot Have a Nation That Believes in Truth, Facts, and Reality, Then We'll Be a Nation Totally at the Mercy of Greedy Rich Oligarchs

And that describes 2018 in a nutshell. Climate change knowledge is ridiculed by a demagogic President and his G.O.P. accomplices. Unnecessary wars are being fought and huge amounts of propaganda has convinced our gullible citizens that these wars are vital. We've traded rights and privacy for "security and safety." Or at least so they told us. But it was and is fake news. Studies have shown that we are LESS safe and secure than ever before and the War on Terror is making it worse. (Because it's a war OF terror, not a war ON terror.) So the bargain we made (trading rights and privacy for security and safety) was no bargain at all. It was and is a fraud, perpetrated for the purpose of offering an excuse for massive surveillance on U.S. citizens. Why? To prevent terrorism?

No—we've had several serious incidents and the massive surveillance detected nothing. The massive surveillance is actually for the purpose of detecting resistance to the massive transfer of wealth from the nonrich to the rich. Detect, then stamp it out. That's their plan. Are we sure we are okay with all this? We are not. Are you? As we said, if we cannot have a nation that believes in truth, facts, and reality, then we'll be a nation totally at the mercy of greedy rich oligarchs who do whatever they want. See the most important book of the 21st century: Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power.

The ladder of class mobility is rigged so the nonrich have no way to get rich—the American Dream is broken!
The ladder of class mobility is rigged so the nonrich have no way to get rich—the American Dream is broken!


Our society will soon be going from swirling the drain to entering the drain and going down the drain just to enrich a few dozen greedy neocon oligarchs
Our society will soon be going from swirling the drain to entering the drain and going down the drain just to enrich a few dozen greedy neocon oligarchs

A nation that no longer believes in truth, facts, and reality is a nation vulnerable to demagogues (Trump? The president after Trump?) and lying propaganda of all types, including when it's used to oppress minorities, stop a woman's right to choose, kill the regulations that protect us from harm, manipulate us out of our belief in climate science, and so on. In other words, our society will soon be going from swirling the drain to entering the drain and going down the drain just to enrich a few dozen greedy neocon oligarchs. The author tells us that good decision making requires credible information, but if huge companies falsify, oppress, threaten, propagandize, and lie through their teeth because of their worship of the almighty dollar, ignoring the harm they do and the morals they were taught as children, then our society will deteriorate into unhealthy degeneracy and sickness.

The Founders warned us about what would happen if we took our eyes off the ball. 'The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.' We were so busy chasing shiny objects we quit being vigilant
The Founders warned us about what would happen if we took our eyes off the ball. 'The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.' We were so busy chasing shiny objects we quit being vigilant


We are being scammed and robbed and then surveilled to ensure we all bend over, grab our ankles, and smile. Guess what? We are not smiling. Are you?! Resist!
We are being scammed and robbed and then surveilled to ensure we all bend over, grab our ankles, and smile. Guess what? We are not smiling. Are you?! Resist!

If We Don't Organize and Resist Oppression, We Can Expect Life to Be a Poop Sandwich

In the immortal words of Mike Heck, 'We're all born with a crap sandwich. Some people get a big one. Others get a small one. You eat your way through it and then you're dead.' Is this a metaphor for our futures?
In the immortal words of Mike Heck, 'We're all born with a crap sandwich. Some people get a big one. Others get a small one. You eat your way through it and then you're dead.' Is this a metaphor for our futures?

IF WE DO NOT organize and resist and just keep on truckin' with business as usual, here is what we can expect: There is an old saying that life's a poop sandwich except that they don't actually furnish any bread. But we heard a new version of it on The Middle (© ABC) the other day: In the immortal words of Mike Heck, "We're all born with a crap sandwich. Some people get a big one. Others get a small one. You eat your way through it and then you're dead." This is a metaphor for our futures, presented as only Mike Heck can, if we do not confront the realities of our current manipulation, oppression, gullibility, and feelings of helplessness. The Founders warned us about what would happen if we took our eyes off the ball. "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." We were so busy chasing shiny objects we quit being vigilant.

A nation that no longer believes in truth, facts, and reality is a nation vulnerable to going down the drain due to the greed of few dozen neocon oligarchs
A nation that no longer believes in truth, facts, and reality is a nation vulnerable to going down the drain due to the greed of few dozen neocon oligarchs

Crying "fake news!" (like the Orange Oligarch keeps doing) has become the easy way for people to cast doubt on stories they don't like. It's Trump's m.o., as we can all see.

Fake news is being used quite broadly as a smear, it's very hard to refute it, all you can do is produce factual evidence in a world where factual evidence doesn't seem to matter that much.—Sydney Morning Herald, 25 January, 2017

Fake news and the destruction of the belief in truth can push us into being a nation that no longer believes in truth, facts, and reality. Such a nation is vulnerable to demagogues and there is a reason for this. The belief in truth is a poor breeding ground for demagoguery. So if a demagogue wants power and control, the first step is the destruction of the belief in truth. (Hitler did this in the 1930s.) For instance, Trump's base believes most if not all of the lies he's told, in spite of overwhelming proof of their falsity. We cannot believe these people are all morons who couldn't find their own asses with a map. These people believe what they want to believe, having lost their trust in truth, facts, and reality. To them, Trump is going to make America great again and those who have anything bad to say about him are liars, plain and simple.

Make American Oligarchs Even Richer Again is the real message, although what it says on the poster is Make America Great Again
Make American Oligarchs Even Richer Again is the real message, although what it says on the poster is Make America Great Again


Trump's base believes what it wants to believe, having lost its trust in truth, facts, and reality. To them, Trump is going to make America great again and those who have anything bad to say about him are liars, plain and simple
Trump's base believes what it wants to believe, having lost its trust in truth, facts, and reality. To them, Trump is going to make America great again and those who have anything bad to say about him are liars, plain and simple