Computational Propaganda

Sick of all this memo talk? Too bad, because thanks to Lynna, OM in the Political Madness thread I discovered a new term: “computational propaganda,” or the use of computers to help spread talking points and generate “grassroots” activism. It’s a lot more advanced than running a few bots, too. You’ll have to read the article to learn the how and why, but I can entice you with its conclusion:

The problem with the term “fake news” is that it is completely wrong, denoting a passive intention. What is happening on social media is very real; it is not passive; and it is information warfare. There is very little argument among analytical academics about the overall impact of “political bots” that seek to influence how we think, evaluate and make decisions about the direction of our countries and who can best lead us—even if there is still difficulty in distinguishing whose disinformation is whose. Samantha Bradshaw, a researcher with Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Research Project who has helped to document the impact of “polbot” activity, told me: “Often, it’s hard to tell where a particular story comes from. Alt-right groups and Russian disinformation campaigns are often indistinguishable since their goals often overlap. But what really matters is the tools that these groups use to achieve their goals: Computational propaganda serves to distort the political process and amplify fringe views in ways that no previous communication technology could.”

This machinery of information warfare remains within social media’s architecture. The challenge we still have in unraveling what happened in 2016 is how hard it is to pry the Russian components apart from those built by the far- and alt-right—they flex and fight together, and that alone should tell us something. As should the fact that there is a lesser far-left architecture that is coming into its own as part of this machine. And they all play into the same destructive narrative against the American mind.

Democracies have not faced a challenge like this since yellow journalism.

Winning Hearts and Minds

I’ll forgive you if haven’t heard of Ian Danskin, if only because he’s primarily known on YouTube as Innuendo Studios. You know, the person behind “Why Are You So Angry?” and more recently “The Alt-Right Playbook.” The latter project is aimed at sharpening the rhetoric of progressives to better defend against the “playbook” the Alt-Right uses in online arguments. It’s still a work in progress, but recently Danskin tried to jump ahead and compress it all into a single lecture.

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The Power Of Representation

I kicked around a number of titles for this one: The Persistence of Bias, Science is Social, Beeing Blind. It’s amazing just how many themes can be packed into a Twitter thread.

Hank Campbell: Resist the call to make science about social justice. Astronomers should not be enthusiastic when told that their cosmic observations are inevitably a reflex of the power of the socially privileged.

Ask An Entomologist: Although we disagree with this tweet…it gives us an opportunity to explore a really interesting topic. What we now call ‘queen’ bees-the main female reproductive honeybees-were erroneously called ‘kings’ for nearly 2,000 years. Why? Let’s explore the history of bees!

We’ve been keeping bees for 5,000 years+ and what we called the various classes of bees was closely tied to the societies naming those classes. For instance, in a lot of societies it was very common to call the ‘workers’ slaves because slavery was common at the time. For awhile, this was the big head-honcho in the biological sciences. This is Aristotle, whose book The History of Animals was the accepted word on animal biology in Europe until roughly the 1600s. This book was published in 350, and discussed honeybees in quite some detail …and is a good reflection on what was known at the time. […] I’d recommend reading the whole thing…it’s really interesting for a number of reasons.

…but in particular, let’s look at how Aristotle described the swarming process. Bees reproduce by swarming: They make new queens, who leave to set up a new hive. The queens take a big chunk of the colony’s workers with them.

“Of the king bees there are, as has been stated, two kinds. In every hive there are more kings than one; and a hive goes to ruin if there be too few kings, not because of anarchy thereby ensuing, but, as we are told, because these creatures contribute in some way to the generation of the common bees. A hive will go also to ruin if there be too large a number of kings in it; for the members of the hives are thereby subdivided into too many separate factions.”

Aristotle didn’t know what we know about bees now…but it was widely accepted that the biggest bees in the colony lead the hive somehow and were essential for reproduction and swarming. …but we now know the queens are female. Why didn’t Aristotle?

Well it turns out that Aristotle, frankly, had some *opinions* about women. He was…uh, a little sexist. Which was, like, common at the time. Without going into all of his views on the topic, it’s apparent his views on women pretty heavily influenced what he saw was going on in the beehive. He thought of reproduction as a masculine activity, and thought of women as property. He…just wasn’t very objective about this. So, when he saw a society led almost entirely of women…it actually makes a lot of sense as to why he saw the ‘queen’ bees as male and called them kings. These ideas of women in his circle were so ingrained that a female ruler literally wouldn’t compute.

Moving on through the middle ages, the name ‘king’ kind of stuck because biological sciences were stuck on Aristotle’s ideas for a very long time. Beekeepers *knew* the queens were female; they were observed laying eggs…but their exact role was controversial outside of them. In fact, in most circles, it was commonly accepted that the workers gathered the larvae which grew on plants. Again, this is from Aristotle’s work.

So…today it’s completely and 100% accepted that queen bees are, in fact, female…and that the honeybee society is led by women. What changed in Western Society to get this idea accepted?

The exact work which popularized the (scientifically accurate) idea of the honeybee as a female-led society was The Feminine Monarchy, by Charles Butler. However, I’d argue this lady also played a role. The woman in the picture … is Queen Elizabeth, who ruled England from 1558 until her death in 1603. Charles Butler (1560-1647) published The Feminine Monarchy in 1609, and had lived under Queen Elizabeth’s reign for most of his life. This is largely a ‘right place, right time’ situation. At this point, there was a lot of science that was just up and starting. There had been female rulers before, but not at the exact point where people were rethinking their assumptions. The fact that Charles Butler was interested in bees, *and* lived under a female monarch for most of his life, I think played a major role in his decision to substitute one simple word in his book.

That substitution? He called ‘king bees’ ‘queen bees’…and it stuck.

At this point in Europe’s history, there had been several female monarchs so the idea of a female leader didn’t seem so odd. Society was simply primed to accept the idea of a female ruler.

…but this thread isn’t just about words, it’s also about *sex*.

How so? Sorry, you’ll have to click through for that one. Bee sure to read to the end for the punchline, too. Big kudos are due to @BugQuestions for such an expansive, deep Twitter thread.

The Gender Inclusivity of Diverse White Privilege Equity

Blame Shiv for this one; she posted about someone at Monsanto inviting Jordan Peterson to talk about GMOs, and it led me down an interesting rabbit hole. For one thing, the event already happened, and it was the farce you were expecting. This, however, caught my eye:

Corrupt universities—and Women’s Studies departments in particular, he says—are responsible for turning students into activists who will one day tear apart the fabric of society. “The world runs on ideas. And the ideas that are in the universities are the ideas that are going to be in the general public in five to ten years. And there’s no shielding yourself from it,” he said.

Peterson also shared a trick for figuring out whether or not a child’s school has been affected by the coming crisis: If a schoolteacher uses any of the five words listed on his display screen—”diversity,” “inclusivity,” “equity,” “white privilege,” or “gender”—then a child has been “exposed.”

What’s Peterson’s solution for all this? “The answer to the ills that our society still obviously suffers from,” he said, is that “people should adopt an ethos of responsibility rather than continually clamoring about their rights, which is something that we’ve been talking about for about four decades too long, as far as I can surmise.”

Four decades puts us back into the 1970’s, when women’s liberation groups were calling to be able to exercise their right to bodily autonomy, to be free from violence, to equal pay for equal work, to equal custody of kids. If Peterson is opposed to that then he’s more radical than most MRAs, who are generally fine with Second Wave feminism. I wonder if he’s a lost son of Phyllis Schlafly.

But more importantly, he appears to be warning us of a crisis coming in 5-10 years, one that invokes those five terms as holy writ. That’s …. well, let’s step through it.

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Gawd, that line annoys me. I’m sure you’ve heard it or some variation of it: “feminism is a religion,” “feminism destroys science,” “feminism is opposed to science,” and so on. Yet if you take a dip in the social sciences literature, you realise there’s quite a bit of science behind feminist perspectives. While reading up on sexual assault and trauma, for instance, I came across this delightful passage in one paper:

In conjunction with the SES and similar measures, scholars have argued that feminist perspectives have had a profound impact on the sexual assault literature (Adams-Curtis & Forbes, 2004). For example, Brownmiller (1975) emphasized the role of patriarchy and helped shift attention further away from internal pathology to systemic and social issues. Advancements such as the SES and the development of Burt’s (1980) instruments to assess rape-supportive beliefs added weight to feminist perspectives of sexual assault by demonstrating that many men did not label specific sexual encounters against a woman’s will as rape, and even held favorable attitudes toward rape (e.g., Burt, 1980; Malamuth, 1981). Feminist perspectives emphasizing systemic devaluation of women and gender inequality as major contributors to college men’s sexual assault perpetration continue to be widely embraced in the literature.

Feminist perspectives also appear to be a driving force in different approaches to studying men and masculinities in relation to sexual assault perpetration. For instance, our narrative review identified several distinct areas of research, such as general descriptive studies of college sexual assault perpetration rates (e.g., Koss et al., 1987), characteristics of sexual assault perpetration (e.g., Krebs et al., 2007), and key features of sexual assault offenders (e.g., Abbey & McAuslan, 2004). Consistent with previous systematic reviews (e.g., Tharp et al., 2013), findings across each of these domains indicate that, although there are several avenues that may lead a man toward sexual assault perpetration, certain factors are associated with increased risk, such as living in a fraternity (e.g., Murnen & Kohlman, 2007), viewing violent pornography (e.g., Carr & VanDeusen, 2004), using alcohol on dates or believing alcohol increases the chances for sexual access (Abbey, 2011), endorsing violence toward women or accepting rape myths (e.g., Murnen, Wright, & Kaluzny, 2002), engaging in past sexual assault perpetration (e.g., Loh, Gidycz, Lobo, & Luthra, 2005), feeling entitled to sex (e.g., Widman & McNulty, 2010), associating with men who endorse rape-supportive ideologies (Abbey, McAuslan, Zawacki, Clinton, & Buck, 2001; Swartout, 2013), and perceiving that peers endorse rape myths (e.g., Swartout, 2013). In general, investigators emphasized men’s socialization (i.e., masculinities) as a driving force behind each of these risk factors.

McDermott, Ryon C., et al. “College male sexual assault of women and the psychology of men: Past, present, and future directions for research.” Psychology of Men & Masculinity16.4 (2015): 355-366.

That last paragraph is greatly amusing, to me. MRAs love to bring up all the problems men face, but don’t seem to realise that feminists were the first to recognise and study those problems, using frameworks they’d created. Many don’t realise how big a debt they owe. (#notallmen!)

Stephanie Zvan on Recovered Memories

I’ve been hoping for a good second opinion on this topic, and Zvan easily delivers. She has some training in psychology (unlike me), has been dealing with this topic for longer than I have, and by waiting longer to weigh in she’s had more time to craft her arguments. I place high weight on her words, so if you liked what I had to say be sure to read her take as well.

When we look more generally at how memory works, it quickly becomes apparent that focusing exclusively on the recovery of false memories produces lessons that aren’t generally applicable for evaluating memories of traumatic events. We need to continue to be on our guard for the circumstances that produce induced memories, and we have skeptics to thank for very important work on that topic.

However, it’s equally important that we, as skeptics, don’t fall into thinking every memory that people haven’t been shouting from the rooftops from the moment of trauma is induced. Recovered false memories are unusual events that happen under unusual circumstances. Abuse is a common occurrence, typically subject to normal rules of memory.

She also takes a slightly different path than I did. As weird as it may sound, I didn’t cover recovered memories very much in an argument supposedly centred around them; between the science on trauma, the obvious bias of Pendergrast and Crews, the evidence for bias from Loftus, the signs of anomaly hunting, and those court transcripts, I didn’t need to. I could blindly accept their assumptions of how those memories worked, and still have a credible counter-argument. Zvan’s greater familiarity with psychology allows her to take on that angle directly, and it adds much to the conversation. A taste:

Not everyone is susceptible to [false recovered memories]. Brewin and Andrews, writing for The British Psychological Society, characterize the situation thus: “Rather than childhood memories being easy to implant, therefore, a more reasonable conclusion is that they can be implanted in a minority of people given sufficient effort.” Estimates in the studies they look at (including Elizabeth Loftus’s work) show an effect in, on average, 15% of study participants, though they caution actual belief in those memories may be lower.

But enough from me, go read her.