# News Misinformation in the News (Science Says Fox News is Making You Dumb)

#### Cfire

EDIT: Sorry about breaking forum guidelines.

I know that the title of this thread is a little misleading, but it seems like a good attention grabber.

Some Notable Findings

The study found that daily Fox News viewers, regardless of political party, were "significantly" more likely than non-viewers to erroneously believe that:

* Most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses (12 points more likely)

* Most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit (31 points)

* The economy is getting worse (26 points)

* Most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (30 points)

* The stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (14 points)

* Their own income taxes have gone up (14 points)

* The auto bailout only occurred under Obama (13 points)

* When TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it (12 points)

* And that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States (31 points)
For each topic, the news source with the lowest level of misinformation among its daily consumers was as follows:

•most economists who have studied it estimate that the stimulus legislation saved or created only a few jobs or caused job losses: MSNBC, 65% misinformed

•among economists who have estimated the effect of the health reform law, more think it will increase the deficit: Public broadcasting (NPR or PBS), 38%

•the bank bailout legislation (TARP) was passed and signed into law under Pres. Obama: MSNBC, 38%

•the US economy is getting worse: Public broadcasting (NPR or PBS), 34%

•the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts: MSNBC, 34%

•the bailout of GM and Chrysler occurred under President Obama only: MSNBC, 32%

•since January 2009 the respondent’s federal income taxes have actually gone up: MSNBC, 27%

•it is unclear whether Obama was born in the US—or, Obama was not born in the US: Public broadcasting (NPR or PBS), 24%

•when TARP came up for a vote, Democrats were opposed or divided: Fox News, 21%

•when TARP came up for a vote, most Republicans opposed it: CNN, 28%

•it was proven that the US Chamber of Commerce was spending foreign money to back Republicans: Fox News, 23%

•most scientists think climate change is not occurring or views are divided evenly: MSNBC and public broadcasting (NPR or PBS), both 20%

This suggests that misinformation cannot simply be attributed to news sources, but are part of the larger information environment that includes statements by candidates, political ads and so on.

What do you guys think about all of this? It seems to kind of reinforce the stereotypes that we all have already. It's notable how political leaning didn't make as much of a difference as the station that you watch, and it's scary how much misinformation there is in general.

The actual study: http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/pdf/dec10/Misinformation_Dec10_rpt.pdf [Broken]

I suppose that while it could be contended that this study doesn't really "prove" anything, I'm inclined to agree with the position that has some data. The study, while certainly not conclusive, seems to be done about as well as they could have done it. I have to say though, my wanting this to be true makes me a little biased. It's all pretty interesting regardless.

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#### Evo

Mentor
We don't get involved with discussions on other forums. You need to make your point here please.

#### talk2glenn

I suppose it's all in how you define the "correct" answer. These aren't objective questions with clear right or wrong solutions, and many of them are unanswerable given the information in the problem.

Consider "Voters' View on the Healthcare Reform". It asks voters whether the reform will increase the deficit in the opinion of "some economists". Who are "some economists", and what information did they use in coming to their conclusions? It doesn't say.

The correct answer is apparently "It will reduce the deficit", and the study cites a CBO report as evidence. The CBO is an organization that serves at the discretion and direction of Congress. It is neither independent, nor impartial (despite claims by the government to the contrary). Sure, they are quite good at the statistical analysis that they do, but the models are always based on information given to them by their employers. In this case, Congress instructed CBO to make certain assumptions regarding reform act participation rates and Congressional cost-cutting policy actions.

On the other hand, I can think of any number of economists in the private and public sectors whose assessments of the CBO report are mostly critical and expectations regarding the Act are pretty mixed. This is one of those questions that if you want to get it "right", you need to figure out what the asker wants to hear, as opposed to what you imagine to be true and correct. It seems to me, all the study proves is that most Americans don't seem to care whether their responses are "right" or "wrong" in the eyes of worldpublicopinion.org.

The same applies to much of the rest, with some exceptions. In general, I think the study intentionally asks muddled questions to try and maximize the number of "wrong" answers, given the assumed biases of the respondents (left and right) to achieve a desired result (American are dumb and misinformed).

This is gamey, and the results shouldn't be relied on to draw any significant conclusions, in my opinion.

#### Gokul43201

Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
I haven't read the actual report yet, but I sure hope the wording was a lot more precise than those in the quoted sections above. If not, I'm with t2g - the questions are ill-posed.

#### Cfire

talk2glenn, the "correct" answer was defined as what was consistent with the analysis of (apparently among other organizations) the Congressional Budget Office, the Department of Commerce, and the National Academy of Sciences, as well as "the regular survey of economists conducted by the Wall Street Journal." You say that the CBO is neither independent, nor impartial, but the people conducting the study say that it (along with the other organizations used) are notably immune to outside biases. I suppose their bias could be coming from the inside?

Using the first question as an example: "It is your impression that most economists who have studied it estimate that the stimulus legislation: (a) saved or created several million jobs; (b) saved or created a few jobs; (c) caused job losses"

The question itself does not seem to be muddled, as the true answer is a quantifiable amount based on the research done by the group performing the study. Still, you have correctly identified the problem that the "correct" answers may not be the true correct answers. I contend that the credibility of the organizations referenced for their answers is sufficient to at least serve as a general indicator for their study. In essence, I am not an economist and do not want to become an economy expert and am therefore relying on (what is unfortunately) the only information that I really know, "knowing" meaning that I am informed of that which reflects what economists seem to be saying.

If you reply to this with a, "That's not really true, and economists in general are actually exactly split on whether or not the correct answers identified by the survey are the true correct answers," I suppose that all I can do is reply with a shrug and an, "I dunno, then."

This is gamey, and the results shouldn't be relied on to draw any significant conclusions, in my opinion.
I generally agree with this, with the addition that it at least provides some misty indication.

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#### Al68

It seems to kind of reinforce the stereotypes that we all have already. It's notable how political leaning didn't make as much of a difference as the station that you watch....
But you forget that "political leaning" influenced which station each study participant watched to begin with. The news sources were not chosen at random by the study participants a priori.

For example, the study shows that 60% of daily MSNBC watchers believed that "it was proven that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was spending foreign money to back Republicans", compared to only 23% of daily Fox News watchers.

But MSNBC and Fox News were not chosen at random by those study participants, they chose MSNBC over Fox News (or vice versa) because of their political leanings. People who tend to believe that particular type of misinformation are a priori more likely to watch MSNBC than Fox News.

And the study doesn't even mention whether or not MSNBC ever actually reported such a thing. Even if there's a statistical relationship between watching MSNBC and believing that misinformation, you can't conclude the latter was caused by former. That's equivalent to using statistics to conclude that rain is caused by people carrying umbrellas.

And the same logic applies to the rest of the study: The news sources people watch are not chosen at random, they are influenced by their political leaning.

In addition, I noticed some of the questions were chosen and worded in a way that would bias the results.

#### Jack21222

I suppose it's all in how you define the "correct" answer. These aren't objective questions with clear right or wrong solutions, and many of them are unanswerable given the information in the problem.
Actually, most of the questions are objective with clear right or wrong solutions.

Out of the 11 questions listed in the study, I would only consider 3 subjective. The other 8 have clear right or wrong answers. It is NOT as you characterize "[most are subjective] with some exceptions."

Lets go down the list one by one:

Subjective:

--Most economists who have studied it estimate that the stimulus legislation saved or created a few jobs or caused job losses
--Among economists who have estimated the effect of the health reform law on the federal budget deficit over the next ten years, more think it will increase the deficit
--Presently, the US economy is getting worse

Objective questions with clear right answers:

--Most scientists think climate change is not occurring + views are divided evenly
--Since January 2009, the respondent’s federal income taxes have actually gone up
--The stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts
--The bailout of GM and Chrysler occurred under Pres. Obama only (not Bush as well)
--When TARP came up for a vote, most Republicans opposed it
--It is unclear whether Obama was born in the US—or, Obama was not born in the US
--It was proven that the US Chamber of Commerce was spending foreign money to back
Republicans
--The bank bailout legislation (TARP) was passed and signed into law under Pres. Obama

Do you want to disagree that any of the ones I listed as "objective" should be moved to subjective? I can see one that might need to be moved. But under no circumstance can I find a majority as you suggest that are subjective, with just a "few exceptions."

#### talk2glenn

--Most scientists think climate change is not occurring + views are divided evenly
Define climate change, and most scientists. Clearly, there is an intended "right" and "wrong" answer here, but it isn't an objective question. The purpose is to bait the respondent into revealing a bias - not what he knows or doesn't know about climate change science, but about how he feels about climate policy.

--Since January 2009, the respondent’s federal income taxes have actually gone up
Again, define "federal income taxes have gone up". Marginally, it isn't possible, as the rates haven't changed. However, as a gross, it is quite possible, or do you know something about the tax situation of the entire United States that I don't?

Further, most Americans would regard this question as being about their tax situation generally (people typically don't differentiate between categories of federal tax, and use "income taxes" to refer to the entire code in my experience), and not specific to marginal income tax rates. Generally, taxes have gone up.

--The stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts
Define tax cuts? As I do, it did not, it contained temporary tax credits.

--The bailout of GM and Chrysler occurred under Pres. Obama only (not Bush as well)
Define bailout. Bush offered government loans, Obama offered a complete restructuring package, including loan and debt guarantees, government asset purchases and four times more money than made available under the previous administration.

I regard the Bush package as a "bailout", but reasonable people can disagree. Nobody can argue that the activities of the Obama administration constituted a bailout, however.

--When TARP came up for a vote, most Republicans opposed it
Even this seemingly fair question is rigged. Define "opposed"? Did most Republicans vote for the legislation? Sure. But did they raise concerns ahead of time? Maybe. Again, reasonable people can disagree. The question was deliberately worded loosely to allow for disagreement, so the pollster could obtain a desired result.

--It is unclear whether Obama was born in the US—or, Obama was not born in the US
Define "unclear". Rationally, Obama has provided evidence, while "birthers" have offered none. The weight of evidence suggests that Obama was born in the United States. On the other hand, there are people who will still say that it is "unclear" has a means of lodging formal protest with the presidents policies. We see the same behavior in 9/11 "truthers". These people aren't "misinformed". Most of them probably know the relevant facts - that Obama provided a certificate of live birth, and that birthers have provided no evidence suggesting Obama was born anywhere but Hawaii.

A better worded question would have asked, "Is there any evidence Obama was not born in the United States?" or "Has Obama provided evidence of birthplace?" But such a question probably wouldn't have given a desirable outcome.

--It was proven that the US Chamber of Commerce was spending foreign money to back Republicans
You're right; this is a fine question. So why does this one use the "proved" standard, and the above the "clarity" standard? Do you imagine the result would have been the same if respondents had been asked, "Is it clear that the US COC wasn't spending foreign money?"

--The bank bailout legislation (TARP) was passed and signed into law under Pres. Obama
Again, a fine question, with obviously right or wrong answers. If the same standard had been used in all of the questions, we wouldn't have a problem.

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Staff Emeritus
I think climate change is far from a clear question - how many people here thought they meant anthropogenic climate change? They never said.

As far as "their own income taxes have gone up" as being a wrong answer, that's completely nonsensical. My taxes usually go up when there is a tax cut. They usually go up more when there is not. That's because my income is increasing.

#### russ_watters

Mentor
I suppose it's all in how you define the "correct" answer. These aren't objective questions with clear right or wrong solutions, and many of them are unanswerable given the information in the problem.
Moreover, they are all politically slanted. I'd be very curious to see how MSNBC viewers do on politically slanted questions from the other direction (like comparing fractions in 2008 that thought Obama wasn't a "natural born citizen" vs those who thought McCain wasn't?).....

....so this study doesn't really tell us much.

 In particular:
The economy is getting worse...
During the Bush years when the economy was improving, I'd very much like to know what fraction of Democrats erroneously believed it was getting worse.

And even that's for a question with a relatively clear right answer.

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#### Jack21222

I think climate change is far from a clear question - how many people here thought they meant anthropogenic climate change? They never said.

As far as "their own income taxes have gone up" as being a wrong answer, that's completely nonsensical. My taxes usually go up when there is a tax cut. They usually go up more when there is not. That's because my income is increasing.
Whether a majority of scientists agree climate change is occurring has a very clear right answer, and it doesn't matter whether you're talking about anthropogenic or otherwise. I defy anybody here to show one survey or poll of scientists (however you want to define scientist) showing that 50% or greater say climate change (anthropogenic or not) is not occurring.

Even if you include all scientists (even those outside of climate science), and specify anthropogenic, you'll still get a number well over 50% saying it is occurring. Unless there's some obscure poll I'm not aware of, anyway... every poll I've ever seen shows it the way I've described.

The personal taxes question is the one I thought could be moved to subjective.

For everything else, you'd have to resort to some incredible twisting of the English language to get them to be subjective, such as "opposed means voted in favor of."

#### russ_watters

Mentor
For everything else, you'd have to resort to some incredible twisting of the English language to get them to be subjective, such as "opposed means voted in favor of."
Politicians use that twist all the time and sometimes it's actually true: sometimes politicians vote for bills they don't like and then stumble over their own tongues when trying to explain it:

John Kerry said:
I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/09/29/politics/main646435.shtml #### Jack21222 Politicians use that twist all the time and sometimes it's actually true: sometimes politicians vote for bills they don't like and then stumble over their own tongues when trying to explain it: Those were two separate votes about two bills. Kerry didn't stumble at all. He supported for one version of a bill and voted against another version. Again, two separate bills. Here, from your own link: Kerry voted against an$87 billion supplemental funding bill for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He did support an alternative bill that funded the \$87 billion by cutting some of President Bush’s tax cuts.
Kerry didn't claim to oppose something, vote for it, and then continue to claim to have opposed it. Nice red herring though, russ.

#### russ_watters

Mentor
Kerry didn't stumble at all.
Kerry is quoted in the link saying"
On Wednesday, he acknowledged that his explanation of his Iraq war votes was "one of those inarticulate moments."
Inarticulate= stumble.
Kerry didn't claim to oppose something, vote for it, and then continue to claim to have opposed it. Nice red herring though, russ.
It's not a red herring, it's an example of exactly the problem with that question: sometimes, politicians' actual beliefs are difficult to discern and just because they voted in one way, that doesn't mean they actually liked a particular issue.

Another obvious example from last week: does Obama support the "Bush tax cuts"? Or more specifically, does Obama support Bush's tax cuts for the rich?

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#### Jack21222

Another obvious example from last week: does Obama support the "Bush tax cuts"? Or more specifically, does Obama support Bush's tax cuts for the rich?
I'd say yes. Not only did he vote for it, he lobbied for it in some kind of weird re-definition of the word "compromise." I get the impression that he was only pretending to be against it at first.

#### nismaratwork

I am not impressed with the methodology of this study, and it CLEARLY has political issues (maybe not 2-party, but issues) and an agenda. I trust this like I trust Phillip Morris telling me to take a pack of Lucky's for my cough.

Frankly, it's been my experience that people who get the majority of their news through a single outlet are going to simply reflect the strengths and weaknesses of that outlet.

I also take serious issue with the "climate change" issue, as it's presented here. As Vanadium says, there's nothing to say what KIND of change, or what's driving it in this 'study'. I'm a pretty skeptical guy, but climate change being primarily anthropogenic isn't clear, although I personally lean towards that explanation... that's not exactly study material nor does it determine reality.

Jack: Obama clearly does NOT support those cuts, but he just saved his party from looking even worse this time. I don't know if that was his idea, or not, but while he definitely caved he did it in the usual fashion. Why pretend to be against it and even bring it to the fore? You're also missing Russ' point that the compromises and votes made by politicians can't tell you what their beliefs are without more information and context.

#### Jack21222

I am not impressed with the methodology of this study, and it CLEARLY has political issues (maybe not 2-party, but issues) and an agenda. I trust this like I trust Phillip Morris telling me to take a pack of Lucky's for my cough.

Frankly, it's been my experience that people who get the majority of their news through a single outlet are going to simply reflect the strengths and weaknesses of that outlet.

I also take serious issue with the "climate change" issue, as it's presented here. As Vanadium says, there's nothing to say what KIND of change, or what's driving it in this 'study'. I'm a pretty skeptical guy, but climate change being primarily anthropogenic isn't clear, although I personally lean towards that explanation... that's not exactly study material nor does it determine reality.

Jack: Obama clearly does NOT support those cuts, but he just saved his party from looking even worse this time. I don't know if that was his idea, or not, but while he definitely caved he did it in the usual fashion. Why pretend to be against it and even bring it to the fore? You're also missing Russ' point that the compromises and votes made by politicians can't tell you what their beliefs are without more information and context.
The question does NOT ask whether climate change is real, don't pretend otherwise. It asks whether a majority of scientists think it is. The very clear answer is yes. You can have all of the other arguments about climate change you want, but you cannot argue that the vast majority of scientists believe climate change is happening, and it really doesn't matter how you define "climate change" or "scientist."

For the tax cuts: in my mind, lobbying for something and then voting for it will always be supporting it. Whether Obama supported the tax cut for the rich because of political considerations or because he believed in them ideologically is immaterial. The fact is, he supported it.

The fact that he supported the cut while not even believing it to be a good idea makes it even worse. Supporting something you don't like in an attempt to make you look better makes you look worse in my eyes.

#### Al68

For the tax cuts: in my mind, lobbying for something and then voting for it will always be supporting it. Whether Obama supported the tax cut for the rich because of political considerations or because he believed in them ideologically is immaterial. The fact is, he supported it.

The fact that he supported the cut while not even believing it to be a good idea makes it even worse. Supporting something you don't like in an attempt to make you look better makes you look worse in my eyes.
Don't overlook the possibility, a likely one IMO, that Obama, as well as some Democrats, don't actually favor raising taxes "on the rich", but only pretend to for propaganda purposes. As an excuse to continue their decades-long mantra that Republicans are "for the rich". That single mantra has got them elected and re-elected for decades, they aren't going to stop it regardless of their actual views on taxes.

#### Jack21222

Don't overlook the possibility, a likely one IMO, that Obama, as well as some Democrats, don't actually favor raising taxes "on the rich", but only pretend to for propaganda purposes. As an excuse to continue their decades-long mantra that Republicans are "for the rich". That single mantra has got them elected and re-elected for decades, they aren't going to stop it regardless of their actual views on taxes.
Far from overlooking the possibility, I actually stated the possibility a few posts up, that he was only pretending to oppose it at first. That way, he gets the votes from the left who want to raise taxes on the rich, but still gets the back-room support of the rich when he actually gives them a tax cut.

But that sounds too much like a conspiracy theory.

#### nismaratwork

The question does NOT ask whether climate change is real, don't pretend otherwise. It asks whether a majority of scientists think it is. The very clear answer is yes. You can have all of the other arguments about climate change you want, but you cannot argue that the vast majority of scientists believe climate change is happening, and it really doesn't matter how you define "climate change" or "scientist."

For the tax cuts: in my mind, lobbying for something and then voting for it will always be supporting it. Whether Obama supported the tax cut for the rich because of political considerations or because he believed in them ideologically is immaterial. The fact is, he supported it.

The fact that he supported the cut while not even believing it to be a good idea makes it even worse. Supporting something you don't like in an attempt to make you look better makes you look worse in my eyes.
re: bolded portion: :surprised:

#### mugaliens

EDIT: Sorry about breaking forum guidelines.

I know that the title of this thread is a little misleading, but it seems like a good attention grabber.
This is a science discussion forum, not a pulp media outlet. I, for one, would appreciate a thread title that's more descriptive of the actual content.

Far from overlooking the possibility, I actually stated the possibility a few posts up, that he was only pretending to oppose it at first. That way, he gets the votes from the left who want to raise taxes on the rich, but still gets the back-room support of the rich when he actually gives them a tax cut.

But that sounds too much like a conspiracy theory.
As I grow older, more widely read, and hopefully just a little bit wiser, I'm coming to the realization that the term "conspiracy theory" was invented as it was, heavily laden with negative connotation, to label and thereby discount the opinions of those few folks who saw through the smoke screens and were beginning to discern what was really going on behind the scenes.

Well, some of the time, anyway. Certain things like chemtrails remain firmly ensconsed deep into CT terrority, with all the negative connotation they deserve.

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#### Al68

Far from overlooking the possibility, I actually stated the possibility a few posts up, that he was only pretending to oppose it at first.
Oops, sorry I missed that.
That way, he gets the votes from the left who want to raise taxes on the rich, but still gets the back-room support of the rich when he actually gives them a tax cut.
He doesn't just gain favor with those few rich people, he gains favor with everyone who was against raising taxes, including the top marginal rate. And Obama is smart enough to know that the overwhelming majority of people opposed to raising the top marginal rate are far from rich, despite his party's propaganda to the contrary.

#### WhoWee

How can any news channel that gets people talking this much - possibly be accused of making people dumb? Has anyone noticed it's hard to argue a point without doing some kind of research - even trolling can increase an average persons general awareness of current events.:uhh:

#### Jack21222

How can any news channel that gets people talking this much - possibly be accused of making people dumb? Has anyone noticed it's hard to argue a point without doing some kind of research - even trolling can increase an average persons general awareness of current events.:uhh:
I'd argue that posters on Physics Forums aren't your "average people." We're better than that. :tongue:

#### russ_watters

Mentor
For the tax cuts: in my mind, lobbying for something and then voting for it will always be supporting it. Whether Obama supported the tax cut for the rich because of political considerations or because he believed in them ideologically is immaterial. The fact is, he supported it.

The fact that he supported the cut while not even believing it to be a good idea makes it even worse. Supporting something you don't like in an attempt to make you look better makes you look worse in my eyes.
I think most democrats would disagree with you (and I think either way to look at the issue is legitimate).....so now do you see the difficulty with that question?

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