Evil Fake Information

Something kind of funny happened in my academic life this week. At the same time I was reading Matthew Fuller’s discussion of rhetoric manipulation and media’s influence over the perception of our own lives in Evil Media, I had a class in the Journalism department where my professor showed us how completely bogus studies or nonsense graphics are sometimes presented to journalists, reach the public and end up making a meaningful impact in people’s lives. A lot of ideas and notions of how the world works is being spread without any real grounding and both generators of this information and mediators are to blame. I think it was a clear case of different fields of study overlapping and complementing themselves.

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A good example of what I’m talking about is this graphic my professor showed us that correlates energy use with life expectancy. You can see, it is clear in the image, that life expectancy is bigger in those countries consuming more energy, therefore constructing more power plants undoubtedly means increasing life expectancy in any given country, right? Are we missing something here?

Be a little bit more wary. Is there an actual causality between those two? Oh, and take in account that the person sowing this graphic to my professor was trying to convince a crowd the United States government should invest more in nuclear energy.

Well, I would say there is absolutely no real correlation between life expectancy and energy use by a given population. What we are forgetting is that increase in energy use usually comes along with structural and social improvements such as good sanitation, clean water, medical research and available medicines. Energy just accompanies technological improvement, it can not be a reason for life expectancy increase at the same time it’s actually a symptom of development. But even more important, I believe, is to realize that hundreds of graphs like this one are out there – sometimes made by well-intentioned but incompetent professional, sometimes the opposite.

We are also confronted by the impact a false information presented in these terms, of a empirically proven truth, can have. As Fuller says in his book, “the material construction of media ecologies themselves plays a critical role in disseminating the very feelings of dread, fear, and foreboding that give rise to preemptive judgments in the first place.”

Do you want a more clear example for this than the so called theory of “gateway drugs,” which claims that the use of drugs like alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana makes an individual more leaning to use harder drugs? Scientists had never actually proven that this hypothesis was really true, but this ideas has still influenced a lot of public discussion about the matter and even decided policies about education on drugs for children. If we don’t actually understand the issue we are trying to deal with and continue propagating fear over the subject, instead of understanding it in its social and individuals contexts, how is this ever going to be solved?

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~ by tkd227 on November 20, 2013.

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