Brian Weeks and I have a new paper in PLOS ONE that describes a set of measured that can be used to assess people’s epistemic beliefs–their beliefs about the nature of knowledge–and uses these measures to help predict Americans beliefs in conspiracy theories and high-profile political and scientific falsehoods. Here’s the abstract and link:
Widespread misperceptions undermine citizens’ decision-making ability. Conclusions based on falsehoods and conspiracy theories are by definition flawed. This article demonstrates that individuals’ epistemic beliefs–beliefs about the nature of knowledge and how one comes to know–have important implications for perception accuracy. The present study uses a series of large, nationally representative surveys of the U.S. population to produce valid and reliable measures of three aspects of epistemic beliefs: reliance on intuition for factual beliefs (Faith in Intuition for facts), importance of consistency between empirical evidence and beliefs (Need for evidence), and conviction that “facts” are politically constructed (Truth is political). Analyses confirm that these factors complement established predictors of misperception, substantively increasing our ability to explain both individuals’ propensity to engage in conspiracist ideation, and their willingness to embrace falsehoods about high-profile scientific and political issues. Individuals who view reality as a political construct are significantly more likely to embrace falsehoods, whereas those who believe that their conclusions must hew to available evidence tend to hold more accurate beliefs. Confidence in the ability to intuitively recognize truth is a uniquely important predictor of conspiracist ideation. Results suggest that efforts to counter misperceptions may be helped by promoting epistemic beliefs emphasizing the importance of evidence, cautious use of feelings, and trust that rigorous assessment by knowledgeable specialists is an effective guard against political manipulation.
I am pleased to announce that the National Science Foundation has funded our collaborative research project, “Measuring and Promoting the Quality of Online News Discussions” (grants IIS-1717965 and 1717688. The project is a joint effort between researchers at the University of Michigan’s School of Information (Paul Resnick and Ceren Budak) and the Ohio State University’s School of Communication. The research team also includes UMSI graduate student Sam Carton.
My chapter in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science is now available online. Although the work focuses on climate change misperceptions, the mechanisms suggested are grounded in theory and should in most cases transcend the climate change debate.
My short essay about Facebook’s fake news problem, originally posted at The Conversation, has been picked up by Scientific American, the Associated Press, and several others. I also did a short television interview on CBC, and gave radio interviews to “Top of Mind with Julie Rose” and the “Matt Townsend Show“. It’s exciting to be reaching a larger audience with these ideas.
I have a new paper out, in collaboration with Brian Weeks and Rachel Neo, which argues that using partisan news sites can encourage users to adopt beliefs that are inconsistent with what they know about the evidence. The paper is forthcoming in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, and an electronic version is available now: dx.doi.org/10.1111/jcc4.12164. An OSU press release summarizing the work is also available here: https://news.osu.edu/news/2016/08/10/media-wedge/
It gives me great pleasure to announce that my former advisee, Rachel Neo, has accepted a position as an Assistant Professor in the School of Communications at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Rachel plans to continue her work on online bandwagon effects. She will also expand her research program to include cross-national comparative work on how digital media influence political expression and public engagement. Congratulations, Rachel!
A heartfelt congratulations to my advisee Elizabeth Finn, who this morning defended her dissertation, “Negatively Disinhibited Online Communication: The Role of Visual Anonymity and Public Self-Awareness”. Elizabeth’s work demonstrates that there is a lot about anonymity that scholars still do not understand, and it suggests a promising path for moving the field forward. Her experiments show that being visible does not always promote “good” behavior, and suggests that we need a more nuanced understanding of what it means to feel accountable online.
Congratulations to Rachel Neo on defending her dissertation yesterday. Rachel’s work provocatively argues that individuals do not always accept online ratings at face value. When evaluating contentious content, in this case fact checking messages, the influence of ratings is contingent on users’ perceptions of the community of raters, users’ confidence in his or her judgment heuristics, the type of rating used (stars or “likes”), and more. It’s an exciting avenue of research, I look forward to seeing where she takes it next.
I wrote a brief essay for The Conversation about a conspiracy theory that emerged immediately following the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonio Scalia. You can read it here: Making sense of the Scalia conspiracy theory.