Prof Peter BEATTIE – Social Evolution, Political Psychology, and the Media in Democracy

Prof Peter BEATTIE – Social Evolution, Political Psychology, and the Media in Democracy


Good to see you today. I believe you all have the official bio [inaudible] I’ll complete the formality of reading it. So
Professor Peter Beattie is Assistant Professor and the assistant program director of the master of global economic program of this university, where he teaches political
economy and political psychology. His published work has focused on the role
of ideas in politics; his research has been presented and published in various venues, etc. Actually he has a very interesting background
before joining CUHK. He had been practicing as a lawyer and then he has been teaching in the University of California Irvine. So it’s not really usual for a lawyer to chose to study and get back to university afterwards though I’m sure there
will be a lot of additional story, and he had also studied extensively on the role of the media. Actually we have been discussing about how Donald Trump had an impact on
social media and how we can tackle this very important issue nowadays. Social
Evolution, Political Psychology, and the Media in Democracy [inaudible] Do you really understand what it means? I’m sure you don’t, so that’s what we have to listen to the
experts on this very important stuff So let’s welcome Professor Peter Beattie Thank you very much, I did my PhD in Orange County, California which all of you probably know is the intellectual capital of the
world so yeah the image over here is of
paintings by Carlos Enriquez I first saw it in the Museum of Fine
Arts in Havana Cuba and it kind of summarizes the argument of the book and
you can see in the foreground an emaciated family and then in the
background, you might not be able to see but there’s a little poster with a pig
in the top hat it just says vote. And he’s kind of making the point that
democracy is not just about having the ability to vote – there are other
requirements like having the luxury and time and effort to investigate different
candidates and etc. etc. And so I thought this was a good image to introduce the
argument overall. So just to get oriented, recently in political science
there was this book that made a bit of a splash in some circles basically arguing
that political science needs to focus on ideas not just demographic categories so
it had two targets it’s been described one “dismally ideological” and
that’s the kind of rational choice, median voter theorem approach which
borrowed from neoclassical economics and kind of ended up playing a defensive
role for US democracy or really existing democracy saying that everything is
perfectly fine the system in practice works just the way it’s supposed to in
theory. The other target is deliberative democracy but I’m gonna leave that aside
and basically they say the reason why these theories don’t accurately describe
the way democracy works is because they don’t take into account our
cognitive biases and limitations. Basically they’re ignorant of psychology.
And they say that intergroup bias, our species’ groupishness better
explains phenomena today – that these simplified
models don’t do a very good job at explaining really existing democracy.
They should have borrowed from social psychology rather than borrowing from
neoclassical economics. There’s a deeper problem here that I’m just going to
touch on briefly rather than get into because this could take a while –
there’s a kind of vestigial positivism within US political science.
Philosophers of science have abandoned this view for decades and decades but
nonetheless it still remains the dominant approach of political scientists, sadly. I think the evolutionary approach requires a philosophy of science that’s more
realistic and that’s the approach that I try to apply in my book. First of all, there are other people in political science – not very many – I can count them on one hand as far as I know – who are also arguing that we should look at
ideas and treat ideas and beliefs seriously. One of them is the political
theorist Jeffrey Friedman and I just want to highlight one aspect of his
argument where he says that intellectual biography or the history of particular
agents’ beliefs would be a more effective political science to try to
explain why people do what they do in politics, like why would they vote for Donald Trump. It’s not that they look at their skin, realize “oh I’m not very much
melanin I should therefore vote for Donald Trump.” They have ideas and beliefs that lead them to believe that Donald Trump will be a better candidate and etc
etc. So at the risk of personal embarrassment I will follow Jeffrey Friedman’s advice and go into a bit of intellectual biography myself because I
think this illustrates the epistemology or the epistemological approach that I
take in the book. So for me this was, this is the most important epistemological
question to ask about politics: why is it that there are truths on one side of the
mountain that are false on the other? Truths in China that are false on the
other side of the Himalayas, truths in China that are false on the other side
of the Pacific. So when I started getting interested in politics the first thing
that really did it for me was reading this book, Women Priests and
Other Fantasies – might be the first time you’ve heard of it – it’s a ultra-orthodox
right-wing Catholic priest writing about issues of religion and politics. I read
this when I was around 12 years old, I found it on my parents shelf and this
inspired in me a deep desire to learn more about politics. Then I started
listening to Rush Limbaugh who is a far right-wing radio personality
in the United States kind of the one of the pioneers in right-wing media this was before Fox News and I found his show very entertaining and it explained the
political world to me and I built up my understanding of politics by
listening to his show. Then I got interested in reading more so I read the
the ultra Orthodox Catholic magazine First Things and the far-right
political magazine National Review and during this time I built up a political
and religious worldview that explained everything that I thought I needed to
know about politics and how the world worked. This is a little quote from the
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, where the main character abandons Catholicism, and
something similar happened to me basically as James Joyce writes, Catholicism is a very logical and coherent intellectual system so if one
part of it breaks down the whole thing collapses and that’s
sort of when I experience the kind of teenage years, there were some logical
problems that I had with it the whole system collapsed, so I had to then go and
rebuild from scratch an entirely different worldview. So his friend here says you know, “then did you become a Protestant?” and he says “well why would I
exchange something that’s absurd but logically coherent for something that’s
absurd but illogical and incoherent” This kind of reminds me
of what I was faced with – I was a conservative, I’ve abandoned that – now should I become a liberal? Well that struck me as as also illogical ad incoherent because
this was around the turn of the millennium. This was when we were
experienced peak market fundamentalism or peak market triumphalism in the US. This was just referred to by Amber A’Lee Frost in the Columbia Journalism Review as Fukuyamaism. So Fukuyama famously said you know we’ve reached the end of
history there’s no more ideological battle anymore now it’s just about
tweaking the capitalist system and that’s the only question that we need to
be interested in. Well perhaps unsurprisingly tat not did not really catch my interest so I didn’t really fully become a United States-style liberal I just had
no political ideology for a while. Then, again, random accidents happen, you get
introduced to other intellectual influences and they help shape your
resulting worldview. So one random accident was just having a friend in
college who introduced me to a left-wing writer you might have heard of, Noam
Chomsky, who writes a lot about US foreign policy, and of course, because I
had been steeped in far-right ideas and beliefs I read this book and my first
reaction was “this is obviously bullshit, this can’t be true, this is insane, the US is you know predominantly seeking after more power no! we care about human rights and
democracy!” I mean this is just you don’t even question this in the United States.
So what I decided to do is I would read more from that perspective and then I
would go find the people who had comprehensively critiqued it, debunked it,
and shown all of the errors in this view. Perhaps sadly perhaps not, that doesn’t
exist – nobody’s really done that – I’ve sought it out for years now and I can’t find
a single comprehensive critique of this particular view of u.s. foreign policy.
If you know of something please do let me know, I’d love to join the winning team, but
until then… So anyway this is just an example of I think what happens to
everyone in their, in the development of their ideology. You might not have had
your ideology collapse and had to build another one, but some sort of process
like this occurred whereby you built over time a narrative that explains
the world. So obviously for someone who had his worldview collapse and then
had to build another one, I was incredibly interested in this question,
“why do people believe what they believe about politics?” So I tried to see what
scientists had done to try to answer this question. So first the most
important thing to start with is an investigation of what information is,
because ideas, beliefs they’re all composed of information at the base. So
there’s three main areas of research that focused on this question.
what is information and how did we get so much of it as a species – in terms of technology why are we here sitting in a room with computers
and glass and steel rather than you know out in the forest around the campfire, and
then how do we select the information that we have available to us. So this
kind of sets up a view of looking at the realm of ideas as an ecology and then
you have to ask how does this ecology operate just as if you were looking at
you know desert environments how does that desert ecology operate what are the
main players in this environment. So you kind of separate the –
if you so choose, I I thought this was a good way of dividing up the relevant
forces in the ecology of information – into supply and demand. On the demand
side you have the human mind: what ideas are going to be more attractive to us
given features of our psychology. So that would be our evolved psychology but also
our culturally influenced psychology, how the culture that were born into
influences the development of our psychological traits. And then on the supply side the primary source of political information is the news media. We might
also have friends that tell us things about politics, family, etc., schools, but
the primary, overwhelming source is the news media. So once you set up this
theoretical perspective then the next place to look is the evolutionary
history of our species to see what sort of marks it left on our psychology, and
then looking at research in social psychology which particularly focuses on
how biases operate to influence the way we process, absorb, and recall information.
Then, between the demand side and the supply side, the question of, does what’s available in the supply in the news media actually
get into our brains. That is. does the news media actually affect the way we
believe about politics – what we believe about politics. So some people, especially you
know media researchers in Brazil, who have experience with the dictatorship
that controlled the media there, there’s not much questioning there. But in the US this is an open question, so I went into the research on media effects. Then on the
supply side the main area of research that describes forces operating that
affect what supply of information we have access to. that’s the political
economy of the media which I’ll get into briefly, and then lastly comparative
media studies that looks at how differences in media systems around the
world influence people differentially, how a system with you know some features
have these effects on public opinion and systems with other features have other
effects on public opinion. So one first interesting question – I put this is a very
scary font – this is from Robert Dahl. He’s not actually arguing this, but he’s
bringing this up as a possibility. He’s saying that if elites in a system can
plug in their preferences to that system and then get out of that system what
they want, then, plebiscitary democracy with voting is substantially equivalent to the model of totalitarian rule. it’s basically totalitarian rule with one extra step – instead of just telling people what they
have to do, you first have to plug your preferences in the system to get them to
want what you want, and then you get what you want. So there are a lot of arguments
that is actually what’s happening in the
United States today. So there’s the argument that money exerts an undue
influence on the US political system. In terms of empirical evidence,
this is the best supported position actually, the evidence of the
influence that moneyed people and organizations have on political outcomes
is substantial, evidence for the influence of people without significant
wealth is – you can’t measure it, there’s no measurable impact of their
preferences on outcomes in the US political system. So you end up with this
sort of view that you’re basically left with just a choice between various forms
of corporate rule in the US. As the great American writer Gore Vidal put it, “in the US there’s one party, the property
party, with two right wings: the Republicans and the Democrats.” And then
you have critiques of US foreign policy that also accord with this
conjecture by Robert Dahl. There’s another one over here. Basically that whatever elites want from the political system in terms
of foreign policy they get through their influence over the media, potentially, so
let’s see. There’s a lot of objections to this view however. A lot of these
objections are similar to the quip attributed to Stalin where somebody said, was arguing that the Pope might stop him doing something, and he said “yeah, how
many divisions does the Pope control, you know is the Pope’s army going to invade?”
haha that’s ridiculous well there are people who make a similar
argument with the media, that the media doesn’t actually have any significant
power so they’ll say you know how can the US media function as a propaganda
system if there’s no evidence of a conspiratorial cabal dominating the
media telling journalists what to write, no Illuminati group determining everything that goes on, that journalists instead are largely free to say what
they like and that journalists often take adversarial positions towards
government and corporations in the u.s. that the u.s. is an open society without
censorship and that media critics like myself are likely to the adherents of
non-mainstream ideological perspectives and so the reason why they criticize the
system is that they’re just upset that more people don’t agree with them, they
say “oh it must be because the media is brainwashing them, if it weren’t for the
media everyone would agree with me” so these are the common criticisms to
any view that the media in the United States exerts significant political
impact okay so let’s, going back to that schema
of how I’m making this examination, so first with information, what is information? It’s not
a thing it’s the physical arrangement of things. So we tend to think of
information is something ethereal, immaterial, floating through the air, but it’s
always in some form of physical substrate. So whether it’s the sound
waves that I’m producing now, whether it’s the organization of matter in the
hard drive and the computer that’s then showing up on the screen and then light
waves going into your eyes changing the order of matter in your brain, all of
all information is always physical. That leads to the most important conclusion
in my opinion which is “facts have no wings” people aren’t going to know
something if information isn’t transported to them or unless they
create that information themselves. But when we’re talking about politics we’re
talking about events that that happened far far away from us that we don’t
have any direct experience with unless we happen to work in a capital city, in
government, we rely on this provider of logistics for physical information which
is the media so the three main areas of research
that actually tried to answer this question to some extent of “what is
information and why do people believe that they believe?” are social evolution
theory, schema research, social psychology, and the social
representations tradition in more European-style social psychology. So
social evolution theory basically is saying that the same basic evolutionary
process or evolutionary algorithm that has produced the massive diversity of
biological life-forms on this planet is also at the root of why we have such a
massive diversity of intellectual products – ideas beliefs technologies
religions worldviews etc – that when you have variation, selection, and retention
in a system like the realm of the intellect or the realm of biology, that
produces increased complexity over time can’t get into it too much but one key
example is this idea of “conceptual blending” that’s pioneered by two guys
from UCSD in San Diego they say that the human brain does something very similar
to sexual recombination in biology where we commonly will take two or more ideas
take aspects of those ideas and combine them as in the example of intellectual
property something where we know property it’s something real but we can
combine it with the product of the intellect and now we have the concept of
intellectual property we have many many lawyers who make their living dealing
with disputes over intellectual property. Then within the social psychological
tradition you have schema research and this basically looks at how the brain
encodes, uses, and remembers information and the basic picture is that when you
learn something or you form a memory you encode a concept
in your neural network and then that concept is attached to other related
concepts. There’s a whole lot of interesting effects of this that the experiments in
this area of research draw out but the most important one that I want to
mention briefly here is that when we learn something new or maybe hear a
story and encode it in our memory we attach that piece of information with our own
personal memories and our emotions our affect. So for instance take two college
students who are in college and for the first time they’re being taught say
Marx’s theory of exploitation and one student is from Guatemala he’s from a
poor family, a landless peasant family working on a large plantation,
when he learns this concept he’s going to encode in a schema, in a neural
network, where it’s connected to memories of him growing up seeing his family
suffer, his memories of working very hard, his memories of being deprived of
material goods, etc, then take another student who learns the exact same
concept but this student is from a family that owns the company that owns
the plantation who has was never experienced any really
tough experience with hard work maybe the only memory that attaches to this
new concept of exploitation is maybe a memory of hearing his parents complain
about being taxed and being exploited by the government, some of their labor is taken
by the government… so the most important point I think about schema research is
that it points out that you might have the same information as somebody else, in
terms of, if you are asked to repeat something on a test you would repeat the
exact same information, but the embodied information the way it’s actually stored
in your brain is fundamentally different, because it’s attached to the neural
network, to memories, idiosyncratic memories, memories only you have, and
feelings that you have. So this gets the root of some of the political disputes
that people have where even if they have the same information the affect side of
that encoding of information can be an impediment. And then lastly social
representations research basically tries to answer precisely that question, why do
people believe what they believe it looks at how ideas spread throughout the
population and how as they spread they change and mutate. The beginning of this
tradition really looked a lot at the media and how different types of media
outlets would disseminate information in different ways resulting in very
different ideas ending up in people’s heads throughout the population. Their example was psychoanalysis but people since then have focused on many
other topics. So I think to – I’m trying to condense a whole lot of theory into just a very short amount of time, I’m going to try to use this metaphor,
hopefully it’ll work, but so take a constellation. A constellation is just a
bunch of stars and then we draw an imaginary line between the stars and
then we create you know some kind of figure. Well imagine that each of these
stars is a piece of information, a fact, a belief, an idea, and then the line that we
draw, the imaginary line of the constellation, is like the narrative, the
way that we combine all these facts and these ideas into an explanatory
narrative or an ideology that makes sense of all of these facts. Now remember
this analogy doesn’t work perfectly because each of those stars is not the
same, you might look up in the sky and see the same
stars but the ideas in our two heads even if they might see the scene the
same are going to be different because the way that they’re encoded and
connected with our own memories and states of affect, emotion. But it’s even
worse than that when it comes to communicating with someone who has a
different political ideology because we’re not always looking at the same set
of stars. People of different political persuasions most often have drastically
different sets of information that they then organize into an explanatory
narrative, so it’s like one person looking up at a clear sky having a bunch
of facts that they organize into a narrative and then someone else looking
up into a cloudy sky where some of those stars are occluded or hidden behind the clouds – they just don’t have the basic informational building blocks, and so it
becomes very difficult to carry on a you know productive conversation with them. I
like this view because I think it challenges what I think is our sort
of implicit unexamined view of how we came to believe what we believe today. I
think implicitly, even if we don’t think about this explicitly, we kind of view
ourselves as existing on top of an intellectual Mount Olympus where we
survey all the ideas in existence and then we pick the the best ones and we
adopt them as our own beliefs and then all of the bad stupid ideas we just
leave out there because we saw them we examined them but we decided that they
weren’t good so we’re not going to adopt them. This perspective kind of forces us
to think about all of the arbitrary accidents that were involved in the
development of our current beliefs and also all of the accidents that were
involved in the development of other people’s beliefs, and hopefully might
help debates and arguments be a little more productive. So evolution, the first place
to look on the demand side is our brains and within some evolutionary
psychology they have this kind of outdated view of what early Homo sapiens
was like so this is from a bar in Tijuana Mexico this is the logo of the
bar but I think it kind of summarizes the view of some people where they say
that “oh you know prehistoric Homo sapiens was a very violent nasty bunch
you have these alpha males that would dominate the women and dominate other
men and and we were just in this competitive you know as Hobbes put it,
nature red in tooth and claw, life was nasty brutish and short” – but you know if
you notice here the the male is very very much bigger than the female the
level of sexual dimorphism inHomo sapiens, that is the difference
in size between males and females, is actually much more similar to the bonobo
our closest relative the reason why sexual dimorphism is important is
because it indicates the extent to which we had a long history of either
hierarchical social organization with high degrees of sexual dimorphism like
the chimpanzee or low degrees of hierarchy which is reflected in low
degrees of sexual dimorphism. If you don’t have as hierarchical and
competitive a society, males don’t need to be as big so they can beat up other
males. But there’s many examples, I can’t go into all of the evidence, and I’m
just going to use the ones that are more the most easy to explain visually. So how
are we different from our primate relatives and in this regard well we
have highly visible whites of our eyes, so we’re constantly
telling other people where we’re looking I can see all the way over there I can
tell where where somebody is looking now if we were mostly in competitive social
situations we probably wouldn’t have evolved these, this way of advertising
our gaze. Instead this is one piece of many pieces of evidence indicating that
what differentiates other species from our primate relatives is that we had a
long period of highly cooperative social environments and this is just one piece among many. Oops – I meant to introduce that… You probably wouldn’t get that if you were all hooked up to fMRIs that your reaction to the following
picture would better predict your political ideology than knowing the
political ideology of your parents – but that’s what research in the US and
Europe has found, that your reaction to these disgusting pictures is a better
predictor of your political ideology than even your parents ideology, which is
kind of crazy. I’ll go into why but this is just the tip of the iceberg of what I
call ‘elective affinity research’ – it’s basically about correlations between
psychological traits and political ideology and it’s quite striking. Just to
kind of summarize and kind of skip past all of that
the end picture you get after looking at research on these correlations between
psychological traits and political ideology is that we have, this picture is
from Atlas Shrugged you might know of Ayn Rand here, lucky you, but in the u.s. she’s very popular so everybody knows this
this is a classic example of arguing that selfishness is a virtue and
selfishness is great this is Atlas the proud capitalist saying I’m not going to
participate anymore I’m gonna go on strike and you guys can figure it out.
so this kind of represents our sort of simian heritage where we existed many
many millions of years ago in societies kind of like those of chimpanzees today,
competitive, you have alpha males trying to bully you’ll have alpha females trying to gain
dominance and then you have the more recent innovation of Homo sapiens which
was to develop what’s been called “aggressive egalitarianism” and then
psychologically, an “egalitarian syndrome” a suite of psychological traits
and tendencies that provide a foundation for cooperative, more equal social
groupings, which is probably what our species was in for most of the period of
evolution after we branched off from our common ancestor with the chimpanzee. So
we have these two, you know human nature isn’t just one or singular, in this view,
it’s dual. We have both a highly competitive selfish heritage and a
highly cooperative and egalitarian heritage as well. And we can kind of see
this even today in the form of what’s been called the left psychology and
right psychology this is an attempt to categorize all of the various
psychological trait-political ideology correlations, and there’s lots of them,
and it’s hard to kind of summarize them all under one short description but if
you do try the best that I’ve seen is the left psychology is in favor of
change, people are more open to novelty open to new experiences and they’re more
against hierarchies they they have a stronger disgust at
the idea of being dominated or bullied whereas right psychology is
uncomfortable with novelty, right psychology tends to view those
disgusting pictures as more disgusting than people on the left in the west. And they tend to be more pro- hierarchy, they like a clear hierarchy so that
they know who has authority who’s going to give orders and who does not and
who’s going to take orders. So what we might be seing really is the results of
an evolutionarily stable strategy or ESS and you see evolutionarily stable
strategies throughout the biological world the most common one is the 50:50
sex ratio in our species that generally we have about 50% male babies born,
50% female babies born. This kind of thing emerges out of the evolutionary process
and perhaps this is what’s going on, that the right ends up preserving what has
come before, so any development, any technology, any social institution that’s
worked well in the past, people with a Right psychology end up keeping that in
existence in society, and people with a Left psychology want something novel they
want to fight for some new thing whatever that is and if they succeed,
like say in Sweden the left fought for all sorts of labor protections and a very generous social safety net. They won, and now even people
on the Right are broadly accepting of some of the basic social democratic
innovations that they introduced so the Right then, after, if the Left wins and
introduces the novelty, the Right then fights for the new status quo
so it’s the old status quo plus the new novelty that the left just
introduced. Or the left might fight and lose, the novelty is rejected, and then
the right continues to uphold the status quo
so this ESS, if this is actually a accurate description of what’s going on in Homo spiens right now, would help to guide social evolution, avoiding the two
major problems: if you stay the same in evolution generally that’s not going to
work very well, because environments change – there’s some exceptions, sharks work well, alligators work well – but most animals have to change in order to
survive. The left offers that source of novelty offers that sources of change and
then the right keeps them from mutating too quickly
mutating like cancer and destroying the sort of social organization. Okay so
then the next area would be social psychological biases: what are the
influences on the demand side that that affect the way that we develop a
political ideology. So there’s motivated reasoning, confirmation bias, etc, this
would take a little bit too long to explain so I’ll skip past this but if
you’re interested look up Michael Gazzaniga’s split brain research where he introduces the idea of an interpreter mechanism,
that what it feels like to think is not actually the way our brains are thinking
there’s a lot going on in here that we don’t have conscious access to. So all of
these biases in social psychology are revealing how the brain
is actually working as opposed to how it feels like to think. So it feels like
we’re judges, you know we are presented with some political question some moral
question we look over the two sides we make a
fair determination. But the accumulated evidence indicates instead that we act
more like lawyers or maybe more like bad detectives who they initially have a
suspicion about who did the crime and then they just search for evidence to
try to support the conviction for that person so that’s what it looks like our
our minds are actually set up to do and this is revealed in a bunch of different
ways so one pretty well known bias is confirmation bias we tend to search for
confirmation for what we believe rather than doing the more scientific thing
which would be to search for dis- confirmation of what we believe. When
we’re presented with an idea we don’t like, then we search for disconfirmation
so you get results like this. You can easily ignore lots of evidence that goes
against your beliefs then as soon as you see something that supports your beliefs
you’re more likely to accept that and embrace that. Then we have groupishness or in-group bias and I think this cartoon sums it up very well how this particular
social psychological bias affects our political beliefs or political ideology
we’re very easy to form groups and once we’ve formed a group it’s very easy for us
to act preferentially towards group members and sometimes act with prejudice to out-group members and this is a very common you know this is just pervasive
in politics whether it’s nationality nationalism patriotism or partisanship
my ideological team versus your ideological team. This particularly evident
in the case of foreign policy because whenever you know
in the US when wars are covered, the other side the out-group isn’t given the
same type of coverage and attention as the in-group. So instead of trying to
counteract in-group bias media presentations often exacerbate in-group bias. One example of something that’s similar to in-group bias, it’s related, but it’s also
related to self-deception and problems in memory. So this was a 2013 survey of
people in the United Kingdom asking them to guess how many civilians have died as
a result of the Iraq war. As you can see the plurality chose less than 5,000
people. Now the scientific estimates ranged from over a million in the
Lancet’s epidemiological study about half a
million in the PLoS Medicine study or over 200,000 just by counting the media
reports of people dying by violence so these reports did appear in the media
and were available. You can argue though that they weren’t given enough
prominence there wasn’t enough attention given to these reports well that’s
certainly plausible. another thing that’s going on is in-group bias
I don’t like to feel bad about my group my group, British people, were
involved in this war we’re partially responsible. Oooh, I don’t like that feeling! It also is related to problems with memory – often times things
that make us feel bad are relegated to inaccessible memory so that then when
we’re asked for our estimate of how many people died it might be something that
we’ve heard but we can’t access it so we guess on the very very low end.
There’s also belief persistence when a belief that we’ve had has been disproven
nonetheless we continue to believe it and this has been Illustrated I think
most clearly in this brilliant little experiment so they gave two groups of
people a case study that supposedly proved that risk-taking firefighters are
the best firefighters. One group they asked to write down their thoughts about
why this relationship is true so they started, “okay well you know maybe they
make quicker decisions so they enter burning buildings faster and save more
people … they’re less fearful” and then they might say “well if they’re real
risk-taker maybe they don’t get married so they work more hours or they
drive faster and they get to the fire and put it out better”… Then these people
were told oh woops that case study we gave you totally fake, there’s no
relationship whatsoever between risk-taking and being a good firefighter
and what they found is, the people that were not asked to elaborate why this
relationship was true they were able to correctly remember that there’s no
relationship between risk-taking and firefighting but the people who had
created this whole schematic structure in their brains explaining why this
relationship was true, well they could just cut out that part of the schema “oh
that is false I know that now” but they had this whole other elaborated schema
that is not so easy to get rid of and this is certainly the case with the development
of political beliefs which are encoded in dense networks that are related to
each other and so you might learn that “oh you know what there there were no
weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but I have another reason why we should
have invaded, we were bringing democracy” so it’s very hard to get rid
of political beliefs once they’re already in your head and very elaborated.
then we have system justification basically when people’s economic or
political systems are threatened they tend to respond defensively by
justify that system by reacting harshly to criticism so this is kind
of like the Stockholm Syndrome where people were taken hostage in a bank and
they started to develop positive feelings towards their their hostage
takers but overall we just have a feature it’s been called cognitive
conservatism. Once we have ideas encoded in schematic structures in our brain
it’s really hard to get rid of them. The transition between the supply side
and the demand side, so there are some people that argue, like in this book, that
political beliefs are somehow just formed endogenously entirely in our own
heads. How? I have no idea, but the idea is that we just have our ideology it comes
from somewhere and then we demand from the supply, from the news media,
a source that that is congenial to our beliefs. So people who are right-wingers
in the u.s. they demand this from the media system and they get Fox News, yes!
now I can watch Fox News, great, Because I I already had these beliefs and now I can
confirm them, Or if you’re on the liberal side, MSNBC pops out of the supply-side –
oh great now my beliefs that I already had can be confirmed!
However media effects research is very clear on this. There’s a massive amount
of evidence that the media affects what we believe. Certainly there is some
connection the other way around that we demand something that’s in accord with
our beliefs but there’s undeniable evidence that the media shapes at least
partially our political beliefs so one area of research is cultivation theory
where they just look at differences between people who watch a lot of
television and people who watch a little television. They find all sorts of
interesting differences from how dangerous they think the world is – you
can probably guess which people think the world’s more dangerous – down
to being misinformed about the Gulf War down to supporting military intervention
versus being less supportive, gender stereotyping versus less gender
stereotyping, etc, TV has a measurable impact inn the US.
The most commonly known forms of media influence go under priming, agenda
setting, and framing, you might have heard this already, basically the way that the
news media frames a story presents a story influences what
you think about that subject agenda-setting the media… the media
will tell you what’s important. If you guys only watched MSNBC over the past
year you would think by far the most important story in the world is whether
the Russian government is controlling Donald Trump or not. if you don’t think
that that’s an example of agenda-setting you have not been subject to the
agenda-setting power of MSNBC therefore you probably think that there are more
important issues other than that one you would be wrong [inaudible]
then there’s a priming, the ability of the media to focus attention on some
things rather than others like George W Bush focus on you know what a nice guy
he is and how much you want to have a beer with him rather than perhaps you
know his foreign policy beliefs or his lack of foreign policy beliefs – what
the media focuses on can get us to focus on the same thing. Then there’s just
direct influence this is a from a private research firm Media Tenor
they’ve done really interesting research on this just showing how trends in media
coverage influence trends in public opinion there have been very recent studies
showing how the introduction of Fox News into some markets in the US influenced voting decisions and public opinion in those markets, there’s
another study that shows how the position of Fox News on the dial – so if
Fox News is low on the dial it influences more of an effect if it’s
high on the dial its less because people who are just flipping through channels are more likely to see Fox if it’s you know Channel three or four versus if
it’s channel 280 but there’s also evidence of media influence through
omission what the media doesn’t show the the ideological perspectives that aren’t
found in the media system and that we’ll get to in just a second so the theory of
democracy is it’s supposed to work something like this you have the people
all of the people they debate freely in the public sphere that forms public
opinion also in conversation with elected representatives and elected
representatives also debate in the public sphere this is how the democracy basically is supposed to work but when you have a mediatized
public sphere a public sphere dominated by media companies you can have a
perversion of this basic process I’ll get into that basically I’m going to start
the story just skip past all of this and go straight to newspapers although I’ll
then jump over to radio and television but remember facts don’t have wings
information is physical we’ve always had to transport physical bits of
information and these are the technologies that over time we’ve used to
do that. So the first public sphere was a bunch of salons and coffee shops where a
bunch of Europeans could get together and read their newspapers and their
books, debate politics, and this is where the Enlightenment idea of democracy being a workable system comes from. Today that public sphere has been dominated by television primarily which is a very one-way form of communication
there’s not a lot of debate although now that might be changing a little bit with
the internet but it’s a little too soon to tell
still traditional media companies dominate on the Internet
although the internet changes very quickly and could very well evolve into
something like the traditional public sphere but in the United States media
consolidation means that 90% of the most commonly viewed media outlets are owned
by just six companies which has some political economic effects I’ll just
point out Stanley Ingber, a great legal scholar said yeah everyone has the right
to free speech but what use of that right what use is that right if you have
no means of speaking yeah you can go into a park and you know try to scream
at people about your your ideas but today you can’t compete with television
or radio it’s not the same public sphere that we used to have then there’s
there’s the neoclassical way of doing political economy of media making
simplified models and then drawing conclusions from them I don’t really
have enough time to go into them but I think they’re interesting I bring a
little bit about them in the book the the conclusion though is that what the
news media produces today is a public good it’s non rivalrous my consumption
of the New York Times web page doesn’t affect your consumption of the
New York Times webpage the marginal cost of supplying that is next to zero it’s
the electricity to run the server to send that info to my computer and your
computer it’s non excludable it’s very difficult to exclude people although I
found that some people say oh no it is excludable there’s a paywall. And I’ll just be like oh you don’t know how to get around that? There’s always a way to get around that basically what you have is a market
failure where instead of producing the optimal output in terms of political
information and debate and competing perspectives the market doesn’t supply
those willing to pay the marginal cost which is basically nothing and it
doesn’t reward the producers of news for the total social value of what they
produce which also brings us to the economic troubles of the news media in the US especially print media. As an example of the fact that information is a public good you can
unfortunately my book was priced for academic libraries so it’s ridiculously
expensive I also have a self-published earlier version that’s much much longer
and it’s been edited so you can get that but you can also just download it for
free on the internet because somebody that I sent the electronic copies to
uploaded it to the Internet this is what I mean by information being a public
good you can’t really control it oh you can just download it for free there
if you like reading it electronically Then effects of some political economic
effects of that media system so you have commercial pressure
you can’t displease advertisers you need to be worried about that also you
couldn’t take it you can see that at the very bottom media companies don’t want
to offend their viewers if they have some story about you know something that
your team your country did that was bad they might not want
focus on that so much because people are going to feel icky and they might change
the channel and that’s no good for them and then you also have people’s demands
what they like to watch they’d like to watch cheap entertainment
they don’t want to get too much information get too deep into a topic
especially a depressing topic so you have all of these aspects of commercial
bias affecting what news people do get then when you talk about bias in the US
we’re usually talking about ideological bias you know some people saying oh the
Liberals control the media and it’s liberal bias and then you have the
liberals saying it’s a conservative bias well one you have simple
commercial bias the media has a bias in favor of what is going to attract more
eyeballs that they can sell to advertisers that’s their business model
those are their customers the advertisers. But you have you know
all of these these really rancorous debates about whether the media is
conservative or liberal basically the research I think shows that yes the
media does have a liberal bias when it’s focusing on social issues so in this
case a Christian NFL player is kind of disliked but a gay NBA
player is kind of liked by the media the reasons for that it’s even the reasons
here are partially commercial the media particularly wants women and young
people to advertise to because women make most household purchasing decisions and because young people are viewed as capable of developing lifelong brand
loyalties women and young people in the United
States tend to be more liberal so that’s another part of the reason in addition
to journalists’ own beliefs that is behind the liberal bias on social issues
however when it comes to foreign policy there’s a clear conservative bias or Pro
Imperial bias in u.s. coverage as illustrated here, and on
economic issues there’s also a clear conservative bias. It’s rather
interesting to see people arguing for liberal or conservative bias because
they almost always talk past each other they don’t realize or seem to realize
that in the liberal bias there’s good evidence on social issues on economics
and foreign policy there’s good evidence for a conservative bias then there’s the
propaganda model, the size, ownership, and profit orientation of firms I’ve talked
about that a little bit already in the influence exerted by advertisers. Source
bias is an often overlooked force of influence in political economy of
media where you want to get authoritative sources so you prefer
going to the government also the government will subsidize your
information gathering. How? by organizing press conferences so instead of you
having to traipse all over the world or the city trying to collect information
you can just sit in a nice air-conditioned conference room and then
write down what the government spokesperson says this is an often
overlooked form of political economic bias then there’s flak, basically
pressure groups trying to pressure the media into focusing less on one issue
and more on another issue and then you have the ideology of journalists and
media owners themselves surveys of journalists in the United States have
found that they lean to the liberal side on social issues and to the conservative
side on economic issues and lastly you’ve got occasional direct government
influence I think most infamously in the case of the New York Times
reporting about weapons of mass destruction where government officials would feed a journalist for The Times false information and then The
Times would get to run this propaganda story the Church Committee hearings in
the 1970s revealed a wide network of relationships between the CIA and
basically every single top media outlet in the United States we haven’t had a
church committee for quite a while so we don’t know what it looks like now but
it’s not exactly crazy to extrapolate and guess at what it might be. The news
media in the United States is is in trouble
Trump has helped the failing New York Times their subscriptions have
gone up by 60% so maybe they’re not so failing anymore but this is a this is a
problem skip past this for now the conclusions basically looking at the
supply side are the news media is the most important force in the ecology of
information and there are very clear pressures keeping some perspectives some arguments some pieces of information out of the supply and that’s really where
media influence comes in in the United States at least primarily the idea that
are favored are either those ideas that are attractive to or already held by
people with power. On the margins you know women and young people in terms of that marginal power as consumers but much more importantly from advertiser
influenced by source bias etc so quickly in comparing media systems the you look
around the world the media systems in different countries and you see that you
have this constant tension between what I think Raymond William calls pap and propaganda so pap is just fluff junk that’s the problem in
commercialized media systems that you’d rather have you know stories about
puppies and you know sports stars rather than real important information about
politics and then propaganda state media being controlled as to what they can and
can’t portray. There’s been a lot of studies comparing the effects of
different types of media systems around the world the conclusions are pretty
clear across the board public service media systems media systems where a
well-funded government-funded public service media exists and has a large
market share tend to have more knowledgeable populations there tend to
be less or smaller knowledge gaps between ethnicities and income groups
and educational groups basically what you you tend to see is that because
they’re not subject to commercial pressure their journalists do a better
job at informing the public. The key here is having de jure independence from the
government so if you have legal in most country studies if you have legal
independence from government that ends up producing de facto independence from
government or effective independence from government there are exceptions but
that’s the the general trend so it seems like the ideal media system would be one
in which a public service media forms the core and that then influences even
the private commercial media okay so in conclusion there have been a lot of
comparative media scholars and just general who have offered suggestions as
to what an ideal media system for democracy would look like because the
current one in the United States is I think we can most people will agree it’s
a joke it produced President Donald Trump I still laugh every time I hear
that on TV but I mean if this is not this was hardly surprising to me whereas
lots of people in the US were shocked out of their minds I you know I
didn’t break a sweat I was just still chewing my hamburger at the time you
know whatever this cartoon illustrates it but there’s
a there are suggestions on how to fix it you might not be able to see it I’ll
highlight something this is a James Curran suggestion for how a democracy
appropriate media system would be designed so first we got the private
sector basically the status quo system that we have today but with some of the
best content regulations from Europe or you could even use it from the US there
used to be a thing called the Fairness Doctrine in the u.s. that prevented
highly ideological outlets like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh that was gotten rid of
at the end of the 1980s and that’s when the reckoning media really took off in
the u.s. so you have the private sector basically keeping that as is but then
you have that supplemented by what he calls the Civic Center basically
following the Dutch model which is to say okay if you are an organized
political group over a certain size we will give you a government grant produce
your own media outlet and you’ll have television time you can turn that into
the Internet outlet whatever but that’s a way of guaranteeing ideological
diversity within the media system then you’ve got the professional sector which
is basically modeled on the BBC or Al Jazeera which is essentially a whole
bucket load of money that you give out to experienced journalists and you just
say here we’re going to pay you what do you need to do your job and then we’re
to stay away from you and let you do whatever you want to do now al Jazeera
BBC aren’t perfect BBC you can still no traces of bias al Jazeera certainly when
they’re talking about the Gulf states you can you can notice traces of bias
look at Arabic al Jazeera woo that’s more like a fox news or worse of the
Arab world but leaving that aside then the social market sector would follow
the Scandinavian model where they give grants to ethnic minority groups so that
they can produce media for their own group and their own language and also to
political minorities so what if you you’re in a small political group like
the Maoist movement in the United States there is one they’re very very small so
if you’re a political minority you might get a small grant so that you can at
least put your ideas out there and then people can reject them and call you
crazy just as they could before but at least they would know what your
perspective is and then lastly the the core of the model would be modeled on
the German system where you have a public service TV where all political
persuasions get their own amount of time on that main channel so that if people
are just turning on their TV just to see the news they’re going to see an
ideologically diverse presentation so lastly uh people ask their what do I
think of the media but what is its power I said basically the in the United
States the media is God but it’s not like you know that you Abrahamic god
where it’s the only one it’s more like a God in Greek mythology where there are
many other gods too there are many other info
what people believe in politics and then within that God like Zeus which the
media is it’s not a monolith it’s like you have the entire Hindu Pantheon inside
that one God everything from Brahma the Creator
represented by the Internet to Shiva the destroyer represented by Fox News or
News Corp but that’s that’s my opinion about the power that the media exerts
and I think democracies need to pay attention to building media systems that
are appropriate for democracy otherwise you get a situation like that painting
at the beginning of the presentation thanks so much
some housekeeping issues for us we have approximately like the department’s of
Kearney answer okay point enhances I think Peter has prepared a special
technology heroes to answer questions it’s bringing them into I forgot to
mention if you’d rather not like you know Savior your answer or take your
question out loud you can go to this website shared up you reply the movie
and will be on it’ll ask you for a number and then you just enter in 640
and you’ll see a chat room and then that that chat room is where you can ask a
question so if you have a really nasty mean critical question this is where you
can put it in and you can be anonymous vegans there is the traditional way to
cause additional questions and most importantly they are box there you’ll
ask proton and on a block copy I think whatever does even though he’s peed
online so I do have what a question is I with because part mattress inches you
know I confess that I can’t understand entire presentation home for obvious
reasons I’m not a psychologist but I do study something about future studies
which knowledge etc do what happens that right now I think is transformed by the
90 revolution technology a time machine turning and all thoughts do think that
impacts on research for instance when you go for this over here you know what
you’re reading is not only provided by the media but it’s also provided by and
machine and they can smoke we’re moving for and they give us the contents so
that might have transformed the entire logic of the evolution between put a
sock on a combination of biology and media and others so how much I didn’t
account for the impact of technology in late 2015 so who’s gonna be the Democratic and
Republican nominations I set up it’s very clear Clinton and Jeb
Bush are going to win because they want the money primary they won that they
raised the most amount of money and traditionally if you raise the most
amount of money you can buy more propaganda you can get more media
attention because you’re considered a important serious candidate so that’s my
best guess I’m very confident about that well as no Trump ran away with the
nomination and Bernie Sanders came very close to beating Clinton things that
absolutely shocked me but I think the key thing is is new information
technology has really changed the public sphere and I think the key thing in this
last election was social media certainly for for Sanders Trump there’s a little
less evidence of the internet helping him you know you’ve got enough help from
the traditional media which slathered billions of dollars of free coverage on
but that’s this last election and the future you mentioned and I I just saw
something about how they’re developing or they have developed a I
very realistic there right very realistic comments and even short
articles online so that could be weaponized for use by governments or
corporations to just spam places on the Internet including social media to try
to spread their their view of things in India the BJP has been massively
successful in using social media there scarily successful at using their degree
of control has been cemented market technology so they’re scary things about
it there’s also positive things because people who could twenty years ago never
get their ideas out to the public like Bernie Sanders now at least have a means
of doing so so it’s kind of education the other thing is that traditional
legacy media companies still dominate on the Internet
there’s still the most read news sites are unique your New York Times or CNN
even on the Internet so it’s it’s really hard to gauge but I
think you know changes they’re coming very fast it’s going to be interesting
to watch a great wave of what a question is you mentioned its cultivation theory
that’s the price to television it was does it also my duty and abuses I wonder
if anyone has done that that’s fascinating I wonder if you would see I
would have I would see but yeah I think that’s worthy actually Brody’s from you
Natesville okay we can open the floor to any
questions that you find whether it’s all even better questions about meteor
American politics or I don’t think I think Peter can remain answer so
question is for sure yeah thanks for a very interesting talk looking forward to
reading the book I actually bought it actually five dollars and Peter said you
said that the news media the primary source for shaping our idea is done so I
don’t know any of the research about this but I just sort of stood by I I
would question that so in your own intellectual history you
picked up a raggedy-ass open there stalkers off in the parish shell now
might be so it doesn’t matter at what point in our lives that we actually
start consuming the media so most of us when were kids in detention at all our
worldview our information around business I would think most likely
shaped by their parents but maybe also ours our schooling and maybe also our
cartoons and Disney movies and stuff and you know I didn’t start being the
newspaper closer to the press you and also when you say that use me as a
primary source of fluid age my morning is you’re talking about specific class
of people like college educated people that are political because that’s
another thing is that most people are a political or over 50 percent of
Americans don’t vote right so most most people are outside a local process they
don’t think about it at all they don’t watch the news even so what what is what
did the research on this this claim that the community is the number one primary
source of our good biology that’s a good question I should have actually gone
into the research on public ignorance as you said the level of political
information in the u.s. is laughable my favorite piece of fact research is that
about a third of people in the US think that the Communist tenant of from each
according to his ability to each according to his knee is actually in the
United States Constitution one out of three people believe that so anyway
that’s my favorite example but yeah I would say it’s not so much the class of
people as the class of information so anything that’s about what’s going on in
Congress today what laws are being proposed what are the
the candidates that are thinking about running unless you live near a city or
somehow I can see it with your own eyes and ears their own ears that information
is only going to get you in some mediated form now you might not actually
leap into the news or watch TV news but the source of that information is
ultimately going to be from news media you might have a conversation with your
parents or your friends your teacher might tell you something but the only
way that that physical piece of information got from Washington DC to
you know wherever it is that you are is fundamentally through the media’s
logistical system but yeah all of those those sources are also extremely
important in developing world-views and probably you know popular media and
entertainment media arguably were influential in making a really basic
ideological perspective it might be won’t be in a one where a lot of
political ideas it was don’t have many at all on you guys but but yeah I mean
when it comes to your gist of how the world works there’s a mean that they
captured that idea very well it was Harry Potter and it showed Mike
Dumbledore as Bernie Sanders and then and all these other characters you know
teaching kids that the right and the liberal senta’s centrists are bad and
you could just imagine yeah what influences even like that could could
affect the development so yeah I just that statement is is more focused on
that a classification to be or should be comes our power yoga
so some outside without province so he doesn’t just cause this is our you have
to read sorry it very simply
I considered of the service provided by NBC CBS ABC is essentially a
non-invasive lobotomy the evidence that we have is that people who watch those
sources are actually less informed than people who watch from no news at all
that I don’t understand how that happens I probably could not simply watch no
news are going on the internet and getting information but I think they do
a horrendous job not because they’re biased in favor of Clinton or biased in
favor of Trump but simply because they respond to the commercial imperatives
that they have to in order to survive as commercial media enterprises I think
that’s the the fundamental problem but I would rank that number one and then two
would be perhaps the code of professional journalism in the u.s.
about what’s newsworthy what is not what’s a good source what’s not but over
and above it over and above anything else that say it’s just the commercial
pressures that they know they’re gonna lose eyeballs at that news stories on
climate change for instance like Chris Hayes was talking about how he tried to
do climate change coverage but you know the ratings drop down so he had to go
back to Russia gate and you know I feel for them I understand like they it would
go out of business or be destroyed by a competitor if they actually did a more
ideal version of their job but I just think it’s I can’t even stand to watch
it whatever it’s just any other questions I just have a question about the media
that the national media an outdated modern days when I was a kid a 4/5 kids
I got my first TV and I watch it something like 5 to 6 hours each day but
nowadays that the Wellness turned upside down the term has been on WeChat so the
carpet media maybe different so what is with you then it’s not it is just from approach it’s not from the media bro so
the ideology that have to form from my compound from this ramen is actually
deviated from that perfect media model this might make then based on that
theory we may have another kind of say personal ideology formation or model
rather than as a straight on the media side media side that is my sharing what
I am most of the research is focused on these areas has been the old legacy
model of journalism where an inverter kind of curates the news for you by
telling journalists you know what to cover and then editing their stories and
they put it you read the newspaper and the editor is
your curate whereas now oftentimes our friends are
our editors are our curators we go on their Facebook page or what’s that group
and they choose what articles you read however on the internet still the actual
producers of those stories are still the traditional journalists if we didn’t
have that we would be even a worse position as David Simon the creator of
The Wire put it he’s like you know because all these small local newspapers
in the US are closing down it’s like a paradise for local government corruption
because we don’t have any any local journalist going to the city board
meetings and Planning Commission meetings because there’s still the ones
that are producing the actual raw material of journalistic output it’s the
the major change so far has been in who gets to curate the news and now it’s
more at least for those of us like you and me that are more on social media
it’s our friends that are that are curating the news maybe a secondary
curation is still if they go to the New York Times or whatever they’re first
getting the editor curating and then they’re curating the curators but the
producers of the news are still the basic journalists and at least the
problem the us is that we’re losing basic journalism okay well amongst what can we hit you
now to fix the media noted that them get closer to the underworld well I really
like that that proposal by James karna of creating a very pluralistic media
system but it’s it’s funny cuz you know tonight combine that question with your
question I reminded them you know all of these proposals were really talking
about the old legacy system where people you know just put the newspapers TV
radio and not so much on the Internet but I think that you know what this
proposal offers is how to finance the production of news right now we’re
losing money that goes into the production who’s hiring and painting
journalists to actually go do the hard work so we have a system like from the
James burns suggested system we would at least have the product put out there and
then perhaps they wouldn’t be disseminated in the same traditional way
of in a newspaper on TV on radio but you know they would still get disseminated
this time instead through social media what’s that group here your your
Facebook your Twitter would happen but the key thing about this proposal and
similar proposal like this is there was the article on the Columbia Journalism
Review they call it the Uncle Sam solution that we need the government to
step in and open the its pocketbook because revenue traditional revenue
sources for for media in the US were dried up and we have to pay a journalist
so in terms of fixing the media system I’d say without a proposed pluralistic
model of many different kinds of government funding as long as there is
robust that are kind of control over the government’s funding of the media I kind
of aimed towards a republican system as opposed to just
purely democratic or you could have tyranny of the majority situations
happening a more republican system where you have say like a board of governors
where a slight majority are elected by journalists themselves and then the rest
of the board is elected via the general public something like that back those
are the ideas that I found most persuasive and these aren’t my ideas I’m
just taking up other people back together because allege do you have
other questions short answer no because I don’t know
what is unbiased like by this and the sentence is
basically just describing how our brains operate that we pretend to act like snow
balls going down the mountain you know just accumulating more and more
information around the core so I don’t know where the objective position is
that we can then compare other people’s ideologies and then say oh well there’s
a big gap between objective truth and your biased opinions therefore we know
that you’re biased I just don’t see any way out of that so when I would would
argue for instead is just the greatest degree of pluralism and debate so that
you know we’re all going to have some form of bias but at least if we’re
constantly exposed to arguments that attack our bias that go against
confirmation bias that go against in-group bias to try to fight against
these psychological tendencies I think that’s the closest we’re going to get to
being unbiased but I just don’t know of how we could define what the objective
unbiased truth position is that we could then measure anything else yes okay I
know so much I think you do too an Australian I think we’d better go strong
if you’re interested you know further on this topic come to take it up gp+ so thank you so much professor – here
antibody producing sherry I think we ought to protocol

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