inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #76 of 82: Farhad Manjoo (fmanjoo) Sun 6 Jul 08 22:14
Hey James! Yes oh yes, I devote a long chapter in my book to the 2004
election and how and why people began to think it had been stolen. As
you know -- from my many reports in Salon -- I argue that the evidence
shows that George W. Bush won that race squarely. Though there were
problems in the administration of the election, there simply is no
proof that Kerry was the real choice of the electorate, or that the
Bush campaign or its surrogates mounted a systematic effort to "steal"
the election from him -- and many of the arguments on that point fail
close scrutiny.

I won't rehash them here (I do in my book). My experience reporting
that story, though, provided some of the early inspiration for the
book. Within 24 hours of the election, many people online had cooked up
elaborate and very official-sounding arguments pointing to election
theft. When reporters -- myself and several others -- looked into their
ideas we couldn't find much proof, but every report of mine in the
early days was met with an avalanche of angry e-mail. I remember
several readers who essentially argued, I don't care what the evidence
says, I KNOW he stole it.

In True Enough I use the election story mainly to explain one specific
failure in the new media environment: our inability too distinguish
true experts from those who aren't. The academic experts who've looked
at the 2004 election have all come to the same conclusion -- there's no
proof it was stolen. But digital technology has given us a flood of
data about elections (poll results by county, exit polls as they come
in, etc.) and now, amateurs, not academic experts, have taken to
interpreting the data. Just after the 2004 vote, for instance, a
mathematician in Utah thought she discovered that vote returns in
Florida proved that optical-scan machines there were hacked. Her theory
became, for a time, the defining argument of the
election-was-stolen-crowd -- after all, she seemed to have credentials
to interpret complex data. She was a mathematician! When political
scientists who had studied elections in Florida looked at her theories,
they saw the idea was bunk; but their counter-argument didn't gain
immediate currency, even though they actually knew what they were
talking about. 

The trouble is that the ease of publication demands, from all of us,
increased skepticism. But we are not, as humans, built for skepticism.
I point to a number of experiments showing we're easily fooled. If a
mathematician tells you she's been studying the numbers, it counts for
something, even if it really should mean nothing.
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #77 of 82: Gail Williams (gail) Mon 7 Jul 08 12:56
We are not built for skepticism.  That says it.
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #78 of 82: Wagner James Au (wjamesau) Mon 7 Jul 08 17:44
Thanks, Farhad!  I think we're seeing the dark of side of Web 2.0-- no
matter what political stripe, now everyone has the tools to be Fox
News.  There was a passage in *Wisdom of Crowds* where Surowiecki
mentions a study suggesting that a self-selected affinity group tends
to get in a feedback loop where their views get more and more extreme. 
I see that phenomenon in the comment threads of both left and
right-leaning blogs and sites, which are already narrow-cast according
to ideology.  So to me, the problem is not so much that we're in a
post-fact society, but that the Internet makes it easier for people to
affiliate around discrete, self-selected sets of facts, to the
exclusion of other facts that may contradict or at least complicate
them.  How can you engage in a comprehensive dialectic on social issues
when everyone's particular world view has an RSS feed?
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #79 of 82: Cogito, Ergo Dubito (robertflink) Mon 7 Jul 08 19:57
>The trouble is that the ease of publication demands, from all of us,
increased skepticism. But we are not, as humans, built for

Any hope in the "plasticity" of the human mind as asserted by
Bronowski some years ago in "The Assent of Man"?  

Some assert that we are biologically still in the "hunter-gatherer"
stage and here we are in the post-agrarian, post-industrial cultural
stage.  A skeptic might consider characterizing this "displaced"
creature to be doing pretty well with such "antiquated" mental and
physical equipment.  

It may be that the idealists are pointing to a "bridge too far",
lacking the patience and fortitude to accept a sort of a "prolonged
adolescence" of the human race.  

As a congenital skeptic (but no pessimist), I am optimistic that this
species I belong to  will get it right after, of course, exhausting all
other alternatives.  (Didn't Churchhill say something similar about
the American people?)
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #80 of 82: What is going to amuse our bouches now? (bumbaugh) Tue 8 Jul 08 09:15
re: <wjamesau>'s <78> -- Howard Rheingold talked about a different facet of
that self-reinforcing-Internet issue when he was in the Inkwell to discuss
*Smart Mobs*. <inkwell.vue.166.119-133> or thereabouts.
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #81 of 82: Lisa Harris (lrph) Thu 10 Jul 08 13:00
I'd like to thank Farhad and Bob for this lively conversation.  We have now
turned our attention to a new interview, but you are all welcome to hang
around here and discuss this fascinating book (and topic) for as long as
you'd like.  The topic will remain open.
inkwell.vue.330 : Farhad Manjoo, "True Enough"
permalink #82 of 82: "The Best for Your Health!" (rik) Thu 10 Jul 08 13:14
Great interview.  Oh, and on a lighter note, Farhad's SmartCar video, on
Salon, is good fun.

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