A Psychological Vaccine Against Fake News - by Rakoen Maertens and Sander van der Linden 2022 - Article review

This document contains article review "A Psychological Vaccine Against Fake News" by Rakoen Maertens and Sander van der Linden 2022
To order to read the article select: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/349693716_A_Psychological_Vaccine_Against_Fake_News



A psychological 'vaccine' against fake news

Page 14 microbiologist March 2021.

As governments across the world are rolling out COVID-19 vaccination policies, they are not only facing challenges around vaccine logistics but are also fighting an uphill battle against the onslaught of 'fake news'
Technical, medical information about COVID-19 vaccination is one side of the story.
The consequences of belief in fake news can be dangerous, whether it concerns fake cures that lead people to ingest harmful substances or vandalisation of the 5G network infrastructure because of false assertions that there is a link between radiation and COVID-19.
All this information has nothing to do with COVID-19
We therefore need an effective way to counteract and tackle the spread of misinformation in society.
Only a small part of all information about what 'happens' in the world is wrong.
Despite years of research in cognitive and behavioural science on how to curb the impact of misinformation, a magic bullet solution for the problem has not been found.
You can try to find your whole life, but there exists no general answer, on the more general question: what is true or false.
The only field that gives a simple answer, is mathematics. A stack of 5 dollars coins is higher than a stack of 4 dollars coins. And if you add a 1 dollar coin to a stack of 4 dollars, compared to a stack of 5 dollars, the two stack's have the same height and value.
But that does not answer the question if a 1 dollar coin exist.
The classical method is known as debunking and entails issuing a correction after people have already been exposed to a falsehood.
The word 'debunking' is misleading, because it often is related to the idea, that a certain statement is false. That is the wrong starting point.
When you have any discussion or investigation between two parties which conflicting opinions both opinions can be wrong. The only way out is to use a scientific method. Starting point should be, that the opinons of both parties should be clear and agreed.
Sometimes the benefits of debunking outweigh the adverse effects of potentially increasing familiarity through repetition but even when debunking is effective, it does not solve the problem: the spread of misinformation—especially on social media—outpaces the rate at which we can fact-check and so people are repeatedly fooled by manipulative information.
This sentence is misleading. If some one claims that something is wrong you should start a discussion and explain in detail that what he or she claims is wrong. The method followed should be the scientific method.
This leads to the natural question of whether we can prevent misinformation from taking root in the first place?
This sentence is misleading.
The reality is that through the ages, the use of the scientific method to study medicin, our health is improving and we become older.
One very important tool is the medicinal effect of vaccins.
In the 1960s, American psychologist William McGuire developed a framework known as inoculation theory, which closely follows the biomedical analogy
See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inoculation_theory
In brief, McGuire posited that—similar to a biomedical vaccine—the 'cognitive immune system' needs to become familiar with a weakened version of the 'virus' (the manipulation attempt) in order for it to develop 'mental antibodies'.
This sentence should also follow the rules of the scientific method. See Reflection 1 - Fake news and the scientific methode
This requires a clear definition of the concepts: 'cognitive immune system' and 'mental antibodies'. If these concepts are not clear and properly understood by all parties involved any discussion becomes difficult.
One insight that McGuire may not have foreseen is that we can
Continues on next page.

Page 15 microbiologist March 2021.

now actually borrow models from epidemiology to study the spread of information pathogens.
This requires a clear definition of the concepts: 'models' and 'information pathogens'. If these concepts are not clear and properly understood by all parties involved any discussion becomes difficult.
To illustrate how this approach works in a controlled laboratory environment, we started by evaluating whether we could distil a sufficiently weakened dose out of a specific myth: misinformation about climate change.
If you want discuss climate change you must first explain climate change, objective in detail. Such a discussion follows 3 steps:
  1. The first step is to describe the evolution of the world wide temperature in the last 100 years. The result of step one is that the average temperature on earth is slowly increasing.
  2. The second step is to describe the cause of this increase.
    The result of step two is that the cause is partly human and partly non-human (astrophysical caused)
    Astrophysical caused reasons can be for example that the distance between the earth and sun on average is changes. This changes can be cyclic with a cycle time of 20000 years.
  3. The third step is to describe what humans all over the earth can be done to stop and or reverse this increase. One area of investigation is CO2 reduduction.
My point is that to use any form of 'Inoculation theory' does not make much sense.
In particular, we used a screenshot of a real website that hosts a bogus petition allegedly signed by thousands of scientists claiming that global warming is a hoax.
This is called scientific misconduct. Horrible.
Science require that all your opnions and your own conduct should be based on telling the thruth. If you lie ?
For example, the forewarning message contained an explanation of the flaws and fallacies utilised in the misinformation (e.g. the use of fake experts, including false signatories such as Charles Darwin and members of the Spice Girls).
All of this sounds childish.

Page 16 microbiologist March 2021.

The warning and weakened dose are meant to trigger people's vigilance and attention (to start the production of mental antibodies), and the message offers people concrete ways to resist the misinformation.
This requires a clear definition of the concepts: 'mental antibodies'. If these concepts are not clear and properly understood by all parties involved any discussion becomes difficult.
After people were inoculated, participants were exposed to a full dose of the misinformation.
Our findings showed that while those who received a placebo treatment were negatively impacted by the misinformation, inoculated participants were substantially less likely to be fooled by it.
More information is required to understand this claim.
This sentence falls in the cathegory: not thrustworthy, because it is incomplete. You can also place it in the cathegory: Misinformation.
After some initial success with an isolated issue in one context, we successfully developed the first vaccine of the second generation: an intervention to inoculate people against a broad range of misinformation tactics.
How was that vaccine tested. Be carefull, all of this smells towards speculation.
Rather than trying to pre-empt every single myth, we deemed it more efficient to develop a broader-spectrum vaccination that targets the very building blocks of the misinformation virus itself (its nucleic acid).
Don't fool the reader.
This also allowed us to examine the notion of 'active inoculation' or the idea that instead of passively providing people with the facts beforehand, you let people generate their own intellectual antibodies in an interactive learning setting
During gameplay, players are forewarned about the dangers of fake news and are exposed to weakened doses of the six manipulation techniques in a controlled environment, often using humour.
What is true that to spread fake news or misinformation can be dangerous. For example: to claim that the speed of a car has no influence on the number of accidents, that smoking does not cause cancer, that alcohol usage is okay etc etc.
What is important to inform people based on statistical facts and based on experiments that this 'news' is not true.

An important issue that this should not be done by means of a game or by means of a quiz. Any form of education can be helpfull.

See also: https://drog.group/ Select View all our cases " at the end.
See Bad News Game: https://www.tiltstudio.co/solutions/cases/bad-news/
Warning: Before you pay anything be warned.
When you read the text of the "Bad News Game" how do you know that the text shown, is not fake news?
When you read anything about Artificial Intelligence understand what it means inprinciple:

My prediction is that it is impossible to write a program which detects all the errors in a new document assuming that all the training documents have never read this new document.

Page 17 microbiologist March 2021.

Ultimately, we aim to follow the vaccination analogy to its logical conclusion: herd immunity.
The general strategy to combat misinformation is by means of education. Education for all people all over the world.
What is true, if all people at an airport wear a facemask, you are tended to do the same. If you call that 'herd conduct', that is okay. As long as observations over a long period show that wearing a facemask influences the spread of an disease. Why not follow this behaviour?
Having said this, we are currently running computer simulations to try to estimate what percentage of a population needs to be vaccinated at a sufficient rate within a given (online) community to effectively contain the spread of misinformation.
These computer simulations are worthless. The problem is that first of all you should have a physical model how specific misinformation spreads to a population. Next you should explain in detail how this vaccin physical influences the spreading of this specific misinformation. Next you should translate this physical model and these physical influence in a mathematical model and mathematical influences and implement that in a computer program.
The problem is, if you do the same for Corona Virus all these steps are rather realistic, because we more or less know what a Corona virus and how it spreads.
For misinformation this is completely different, because what misinformation is, is not clearly defined. Specific this is true in the political arena and in many areas where the tendency is: keep it vaque. Specific this is true in the economical and religious arena where it is very difficult to investigate what the results are of certain actions what is true and what is false.
To help ensure that misinformation-induced vaccine hesitancy does not spread further, governments, schools, technology companies and civil society can therefore help spread and scale the vaccine.
All of this is by itself misinformation
However, at the end of the day, we need a multi-layered defence system.
Educate people all over the world in critical thinking. Explain people how science works and demonstrate what we know by performing experiments.
We need to prebunk first where possible, but also continue to rely on real-time fact-checking as well as debunking after the fact if needed.
Be suspicious when people use therminology like: predunk, fact-checking and debunking.
As with any virus, we have to stay alert and be ready to update our vaccines whenever a new variant of misinformation arises.
To compare misinformation with a human virus does not make sense. Misinformation is what it is: Text with contains errors.
When people write something what is wrong or not clear, explain as much as possible in so simple possible text, what is wrong. Modify this text and explain why these modifications are made.

Reflection 1 - Fake News and the Scientific Method

The name 'Fake News' is misleading. A better name is: 'Fake Information' or 'False Information'.
When you use that definition the title of the article becomes: A psychological 'vaccine' against 'false information'

However this raises a new question: what is the purpose of this article.
IMO the purpose of this article is to explain that there exists a vaccin which when inoculated it becomes easier to detect, to know, to understand what is true or correct versus what is false or misleading.
IMO such a 'vaccin' does not exist and the whole article is in fact misleading.
The reply can be: that's not what we mean. But than you have to define what you really mean. The problem is that you are entering the area of what you can call: border line science.

The only way to understand what is right or wrong, is to study science and by performing experiments using the scientific method.
The scientific method involves that during the discussion both parties should describe as clear as possible what their opinion is and agree that they understand what the opinion their oponent is. In fact they should be able to repeat each others opinion.
A good way to challenge each others opinions is to try to find contradictions in someone's opinion.
A different way is to challenge, that different concepts or words used, are not clear.

Reflection 2 - Overall reflection

The overall subject in the article is misinformation.
It is wrong to inform that the use of face mask has no influence on the spread of the Corona Virus. It helps. The problem is that presently many people (not all) are vaccinated. That means the influence of face mask has deminished. That is a scientifical fact.

What does that mean related to: Inoculation theory. Does there something exists what can be called:'A Psychological Vaccine'?

For the dutch readers this link: https://www.humanistischverbond.be/kritisch-lezen/1038/immuun-voor-nepnieuws/

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Created: 1 June 2022

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