L&Cs: The Limits of Human Intelligence; Disinformation and the Media

Is there a limitation to human intelligence and understanding of reality, bound by our tendency to believe magical things for the sake of tribal unity? And how do people understand reality when governments seeking to maintain power are in control of the news?

OnlySky, Hemant Mehta, 5 March 2022: 100 years after an anti-evolution bill died, science battles rage on, subtitled, “Kentucky blocked the first anti-evolution bill a century ago. Why are we still having these fights?”

Referring to a bill in Kentucky in 1922. The essay here links a diagram from this article in Science showing the, heh heh, evolution — descent with modification — of anti-evolution legislation: how each is derived from an earlier one, but how the targets shift based on the success of arguments about various topics [[ a kind of natural selection ]].


While similar bills rarely get passed—thank goodness—they’re only proposed because a sizable percentage of conservative voters believe their religious faith should override scientific realities.

But the biggest blow to faith-based superstition continues to frustrate religious conservatives today. They’re so afraid of children learning about evolution that they want to punish teachers who do it well, promote Creationism alongside it, or sow confusion in children who attend public schools.

It occurs to me that intellectual resistance like this will never end, just as some people still believe, based on their human intuition, thousands of years after the Greeks demonstrated otherwise, that the Earth is flat.

Is this due to a fundamental limitation of human intelligence? Or an effect of deep-seated human biases that favor magical thinking for its role in solidifying tribes and groups, to the detriment of intelligence? — i.e. a kind of evolution, which they would, ironically, deny? Perhaps creationists and flat-earthers are evidence that humanity, as a whole, has reached a ceiling on the extent to which we as a species can understand reality, and respond to it.



Salon, Amanda Marcotte, 8 March 2022: Florida Republicans revive deadly “queers recruit” myth with passage of “don’t say gay” bill, subtitled, “Florida Republicans are accusing LGBTQ people of ‘grooming,’ ‘sexual instruction,’ and bribing kids to be gay”

Despite all the public pressure, Florida Republicans pushed this bill through the legislature and sent it to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk on Tuesday morning. To make it even worse, Republicans, in their eagerness to get the “don’t say gay” bill across the finish line, revived a repulsive, homophobic myth: That queer people are pedophiles who recruit children.

Marcotte goes on,

But (I can’t believe this needs to be said in the year 2022) there is no evidence that LGBTQ people molest children at a higher rate than straight-identified people.

What Pushaw is doing here, of course, is dog-whistling to QAnon and their conspiracy theories accusing pretty much every Democrat around of being pedophiles and cannibals. She’s harkening back to a “gays recruit” myth that is so old that many Americans haven’t even heard it, or at least thought it died out long ago.

Conservatives are so terribly, terribly frightened! These ideas are nonsense, of course, just as despicable as any number of racist charges (Blacks are lazy, etc.) that conservatives target non-White minorities with. (Tucker Carlson: show me your LSAT score, which of course he never asked about any white nominees to the Supreme Court.)

I think there is some deep psychological connection among the various ways conservatives deny reality for the sake of tribal unity. It may be that for such reasons, humanity never advances beyond a certain level, which we have now reached. That would, extrapolating this idea to other presumed intelligence species on other worlds, explain Fermi’s paradox.


NYT, subscriber-only, Jay Caspian Kang, 7 March 2022: Fighting Disinformation Can Feel Like a Lost Cause. It Isn’t. [Update: the piece appeared in the 9 March print edition, and is available online that way; it’s not just an online subscriber benefit.]

Because the above two items are at base about disinformation, and what drives it.

Over the past five years, Finland has become one of the world’s leaders in disinformation education. High school students there are given a series of political topics and asked to compile lists of stories and commentary from across the internet. They’re then tasked with investigating the veracity of claims. In some schools, even elementary school students are given a “tool kit” that provides them with ways to spot dubious information online.

Finland also ranks at the top of the Media Literacy Index, a metric developed by the Open Society Institute of Sofia that, according to the group’s website, tries to gauge which countries have “the highest potential to withstand the negative impact of fake news and misinformation due to the quality of education, free media and high trust among people.”

Another example is Estonia, a relatively poor country compared to those that scored higher on that Media Literacy Index. In the US

there were 14 states that offered some form of mandatory media literacy education, but there’s a lot of variation in what “media literacy” means. Florida, Utah and Texas are seen as leaders in media literacy education, but it’s difficult to gauge how effective their programs are.

The writer doesn’t offer any specific magic bullets, just general guidelines.

a more comprehensive approach that teaches kids how to assess not only the reliability of the specific information they’ve found online but also who published it and for what purpose. In doing this, students are looking at the whole ecosystem in which the information resides, which improves their ability to question things that may seem to come from sources that look reputable enough. When Dr. Breakstone and his group incorporated these lessons into a 12th-grade civics course, they found almost immediate improvement in the students’ ability to think critically about that information.

“Who published it and for what reason.” This covers most of it, including all the instruction children receive from parents, religious leaders, and political leaders.


Three more shorter items.

Politico, Colin Dickey, 6 March 2022: The New Conservative Books Are Angry. But Why Are They So Boring?, subtitled, “I read 10 of the conservative publisher’s books and found them tired, backward-looking, and, well, very boring.”

This reminds me of how many conservatives, in particular, Donald T****, have no sense of humor.


Another piece about control of the media.

The New Yorker, Masha Gessen, 4 March 2022: The War That Russians Do Not See, subtitled, “A majority of people in Russia get their news from state television, which depicts their country not as the aggressor in Ukraine but as a victim of the West.”

Do most Russians not understand that the only news of the war — er, military operation — in Ukraine is through state-controlled Russian media? (Do Fox News viewers not realize….?)


Salon, Chauncey DeVega, 7 March 2022: Dr. Justin Frank: Trump sees Putin as a superhero, loves “the power of his paranoid thinking”, subtitled “Psychoanalyst and bestselling author on the dangerous bromance: Trump is a coward who worships Putin’s ruthlessness”

And apparently many right-wing supporters of Trump worship Putin — or at least give him the benefit of the doubt — because Putin is against many of the social issues they disapprove of also.

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