The world is swimming in misinformation. Conflicting messages bombard us every day with news on everything from politics and world events to investments and alternative health. The daily paper, nightly news, websites, and social media each compete for our attention and each often insist on a different version of the facts. Inevitably, we have questions:
- Who is telling the truth?
- How would we know?
- How did we get here?
- What can we do?
Beyond Fake News answers these and other queries. It offers a technological and market-based explanation for how our informational environment became so polluted. It shows how purveyors of news often have incentives to mislead us, and how consumers of information often have incentives to be misled. And it chronicles how, as technology improves and the regulatory burdens drop, our information-scape becomes ever more littered with misinformation. Beyond Fake News argues that even when we really want the truth, our minds are built in such a way so as to be incapable of grasping many facts, and blind spots mar our view of the world. But we can do better, both as individuals and as a society. As individuals, we can improve the accuracy of our understanding of the world by knowing who to trust and recognizing our limitations. And as a society, we can take important steps to reduce the quantity and effects of misinformation.
Table of Contents
Part 1: The Misinformation Market
1. Informational Litter
a. Fountains of Misinformation
b. The Catalyst of Electronic Media
c. Cheap and Easy
2. It’s the Economy, Stupid: The Supply Side of the Misinformation Market
a. Follow the Money
b. A Pyramid of Strategies
3. Ignorance is Bliss: The Demand Side of the Misinformation Market
a. What you Really, Really Want
b. How Consumer Preferences Shape the News
Part 2: Why We Fall for Misinformation
4. Big and Little Questions
a. The Distinction
b. Prehistoric Minds
c. How Big Questions Can Get Us into Trouble
5. Intellectual Blind Spots
a. Hard-Wired for Success (But Only with Some Things)
b. The Citizens of Lake Wobegon: Errors of Bias
c. Rolling the Dice: Errors of Quality
Part 3: How We Can Do Better
6. Building a Bridge
a. How the Academy Learned to Tackle Big Questions
b. Sorting the Signal from the Noise: Can We Trust our Bridges?
c. Which News is Fake?
7. Trusting Others
a. When Trust Goes Wrong
b. What Makes an Expert?
c. Knowing Who to Trust
8. Finding the Truth
a. Giving up on Truth
b. Intellectual Virtues
c. The Rules of Engagement
9. Cleaning Up
a. Why Bother?
b . What Individuals Can Do
c. What Society Can Do
Justin P. McBrayer is Professor of Philosophy at Fort Lewis College, the liberal arts college for the State of Colorado. He is Executive Director for the Society of Christian Philosophers and Co-Editor of A Companion to the Problem of Evil (2013), Introducing Ethics (2013), and Skeptical Theism: New Essays (2014).
"Should be required reading for as large a segment of the general populace as possible and a mandatory addition to community, college, and university library collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, political activists, governmental policy makers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject."
Midwest Book Review
"Justin McBrayer offers a wonderfully engaging account of our current predicament regarding the spread of misinformation, and what we should do about it. This book is a joy to read, and full of insight."
Duncan Pritchard, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, University of California, Irvine, and author of Scepticism: A Very Short Introduction
"Professor McBrayer deserves a lot of credit for tackling the problem of fake news and misleading information head-on. With very clear and accessible writing, he offers a fascinating look at how we got into our current situation and how we can fall prey to misinformation. Most important of all, he gives us good advice about how we as individuals and as a society can do better. Highly recommended!"
Christian B. Miller, A. C. Reid Professor of Philosophy, Wake Forest University, and author of The Character Gap: How Good Are We?
“This is a very fine book, much needed in these times, when truth is an endangered species, and fallacies abound. McBrayer writes in a lively, clear, accessible style, and he gives insightful practical advice for sorting through all of the misinformation by which we are bombarded. It is enjoyable to read--and important to read! I highly recommend this book.”
John Martin Fischer, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, University of California, Riverside
“This book is excellent! Justin P. McBrayer does what any writer who wants to persuade others should do: he anticipates what those who hold opposing views might say and responds to their arguments. I’m an adjunct professor who teaches mass media, and I see the value of this book for my students. But readers don’t have to be in a scholastic setting to benefit from McBrayer’s book. Anyone who’s interested in the topic of fake news will learn much.”
Joe Wisinski, Adjunct Professor of Mass Media