Farhad Manjoo (fmanjoo) Sun 6 Jul 08 22:14
Hey James! Yes oh yes, I devote a long chapter in my book to the 2004 election and how and why people began to think it had been stolen. As you know -- from my many reports in Salon -- I argue that the evidence shows that George W. Bush won that race squarely. Though there were problems in the administration of the election, there simply is no proof that Kerry was the real choice of the electorate, or that the Bush campaign or its surrogates mounted a systematic effort to "steal" the election from him -- and many of the arguments on that point fail close scrutiny. I won't rehash them here (I do in my book). My experience reporting that story, though, provided some of the early inspiration for the book. Within 24 hours of the election, many people online had cooked up elaborate and very official-sounding arguments pointing to election theft. When reporters -- myself and several others -- looked into their ideas we couldn't find much proof, but every report of mine in the early days was met with an avalanche of angry e-mail. I remember several readers who essentially argued, I don't care what the evidence says, I KNOW he stole it. In True Enough I use the election story mainly to explain one specific failure in the new media environment: our inability too distinguish true experts from those who aren't. The academic experts who've looked at the 2004 election have all come to the same conclusion -- there's no proof it was stolen. But digital technology has given us a flood of data about elections (poll results by county, exit polls as they come in, etc.) and now, amateurs, not academic experts, have taken to interpreting the data. Just after the 2004 vote, for instance, a mathematician in Utah thought she discovered that vote returns in Florida proved that optical-scan machines there were hacked. Her theory became, for a time, the defining argument of the election-was-stolen-crowd -- after all, she seemed to have credentials to interpret complex data. She was a mathematician! When political scientists who had studied elections in Florida looked at her theories, they saw the idea was bunk; but their counter-argument didn't gain immediate currency, even though they actually knew what they were talking about. The trouble is that the ease of publication demands, from all of us, increased skepticism. But we are not, as humans, built for skepticism. I point to a number of experiments showing we're easily fooled. If a mathematician tells you she's been studying the numbers, it counts for something, even if it really should mean nothing.
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 7 Jul 08 12:56
We are not built for skepticism. That says it.
Wagner James Au (wjamesau) Mon 7 Jul 08 17:44
Thanks, Farhad! I think we're seeing the dark of side of Web 2.0-- no matter what political stripe, now everyone has the tools to be Fox News. There was a passage in *Wisdom of Crowds* where Surowiecki mentions a study suggesting that a self-selected affinity group tends to get in a feedback loop where their views get more and more extreme. I see that phenomenon in the comment threads of both left and right-leaning blogs and sites, which are already narrow-cast according to ideology. So to me, the problem is not so much that we're in a post-fact society, but that the Internet makes it easier for people to affiliate around discrete, self-selected sets of facts, to the exclusion of other facts that may contradict or at least complicate them. How can you engage in a comprehensive dialectic on social issues when everyone's particular world view has an RSS feed?
Cogito, Ergo Dubito (robertflink) Mon 7 Jul 08 19:57
>The trouble is that the ease of publication demands, from all of us, increased skepticism. But we are not, as humans, built for skepticism.< Any hope in the "plasticity" of the human mind as asserted by Bronowski some years ago in "The Assent of Man"? Some assert that we are biologically still in the "hunter-gatherer" stage and here we are in the post-agrarian, post-industrial cultural stage. A skeptic might consider characterizing this "displaced" creature to be doing pretty well with such "antiquated" mental and physical equipment. It may be that the idealists are pointing to a "bridge too far", lacking the patience and fortitude to accept a sort of a "prolonged adolescence" of the human race. As a congenital skeptic (but no pessimist), I am optimistic that this species I belong to will get it right after, of course, exhausting all other alternatives. (Didn't Churchhill say something similar about the American people?)
What is going to amuse our bouches now? (bumbaugh) Tue 8 Jul 08 09:15
re: <wjamesau>'s <78> -- Howard Rheingold talked about a different facet of that self-reinforcing-Internet issue when he was in the Inkwell to discuss *Smart Mobs*. <inkwell.vue.166.119-133> or thereabouts.
Lisa Harris (lrph) Thu 10 Jul 08 13:00
I'd like to thank Farhad and Bob for this lively conversation. We have now turned our attention to a new interview, but you are all welcome to hang around here and discuss this fascinating book (and topic) for as long as you'd like. The topic will remain open.
"The Best for Your Health!" (rik) Thu 10 Jul 08 13:14
Great interview. Oh, and on a lighter note, Farhad's SmartCar video, on Salon, is good fun.
Members: Enter the conference to participate