Thursday, June 11, 2020

You are What you Read: How to Manage your Personal Echo Chamber


Mr. Trump has often being accused of "lying" in his many speeches and tweets. For sure, much of what he says can be said to be "contrary to fact." But is the president really lying or is he simply stating what he thinks truth is? One man's lies are another man's truth. And the problem is that people tend to see the world according to the different echo chamber in which they live. Everyone seeks for facts that support their opinions. We badly need to take control of the information flow that we receive and I think we can do that. Let me show you how I try to do it by disclosing my personal information bubble.


Not long ago, I stumbled in a comment on "Quora" for the question, "Why do some people deny climate change? Here is a shortened version:

CO2 levels of 400 ppm being dangerously high are not accepted by scientists I find credible. There is no significant sea rise. The temperature has not changed by even 1 degree C. over the past century. Climate Change has not increased hurricanes or their intensity. I may rethink this if there is an undoubtedly measurable change in the level of the seas, or a decade long temperature rise.
Now, if you are an average reader of "Cassandra's Legacy" you'll agree with me every statement in this paragraph is wrong in the sense of being "contrary to fact." But I am sure that the writer of this paragraph is a good person. He signed with his full name and I could see his profile. I think that if he were a neighbor of mine we could be good friends (as long as we would avoid discussing climate science!). He truly believes in what he says and he thinks his vision of the world is the right one.

What's wrong here? How can it be that "truth" is so different depending on the viewpoint? The problem is that we all live in an "information bubbles" or "echo chambers" where views are shared with other members of the same bubble/chamber. And if everyone thinks that something is true, then it is very difficult for a single person to deny that something -- even to imagine that it could be completely false.

So, we badly need to take control of the information we receive. We need to select trusted sources and balance the voices we hear in such a way to see things from different viewpoints. Otherwise, we are easy prey for the simplest propaganda tricks, continuously used against us. Silly tricks, but they work. And they work very well. Can we avoid this trap? I think so, but it takes some work.


First of all, I believe that blogs are by far the best source of information we have. Of course, you know that blogs are somewhat out of fashion in a word where your attention span can't hardly digest more than one or two paragraphs. Blogs are supposed to be passé, and their long texts are static and don't fit in the narrow screens of cell phones. Nobody has time for blogs anymore.

It is a mishmash of some 66 blogs, not far from the "Dumbar Number," the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. It is a list that, most likely, won't make any sense to you, but it does to me. It changes all the time, but it maintains a "core" of blogs that I have been following for several years. "The Old Reader" doesn't allow alphabetic ordering the links, so the list starts with the blogs I have been following for a long time, those at the bottom are new entries (or re-entering the list after a hiatus).

So, what am I reading? You may notice that I am following some of the most subversive blogs of the Web: the pro-Russian Saker, the neo-Eurasianist site of Alexander Dugin, the ultra-communist site of Caitlin Johnstone, and the very subversive "Moon of Alabama." But take into account that I can't avoid being exposed, at least a little, to the standard mass media. So, I am not unaware of what's being said in the mainstream debate. But I can tell you that every time I open the site of a major newspaper, or of CNN, or of RT, I am surprised by the shallowness and the poverty of the information they provide (and not just that, you know better than me that they lie most of the time). And it helps little to try to balance what you read on CNN and RT: averaging two lies doesn't generate a truth.

Then, there are several scientific blogs I follow. Some are rather catastrophistic, such as the ones by Jem Bendell, by Gail Tverberg, or by Antonio Turiel (The Oil Crash). But I also tend to follow a good number of "climate denialist" sites, such as the arch-evil site of Alan Watts (Watts Up With That). Indeed, they are evil, but in a certain way funny. And I learn a lot from their posts. I also follow Roy Spencer, though I disagree with him, he is still a valid scientist. The site kept by Judith Curry is normally boring, but it often provides interesting links. I also follow the Italian "New Ice Age," they are totally cocoa bananas and, fortunately, they don't seem to be so active anymore. But they made death threats against me in the past, so I'd better keep track of what they are up to.

Then, there is a group of blogs that I consider as true gems, but not easily classifiable in political or scientific terms, such as the Kelebekler blog (in Italian), the Empathy site by Chuck Pezhensky, the Gaianism site by Eric Assadurian, the Blogmire by Rob Slane. And many other blogs in different languages, it is truly a zoo. Over the years, I found that I often tend to follow blogs I disagree with. The only kind I can't possibly stomach are those promoting racism, violence, suprematism, oppression, intimidation, and the like -- sorry, those won't make it to my list.

So, what do you think? Are these blogs harming my mental sanity? Maybe. For sure, many people tend to think that I am "strange," especially those who watch TV every day and, if you read the Cassandra blog, you probably understand why. I am hard to classify as being "left" or "right." I don't even fall into the category of the "catastrophists" because I believe that collapse can be reversed. That seems to anger some people who are convinced that it is a good thing that we are all going to die very soon. But, frankly, I am not in a hurry.

There is more, but I don't think you are especially interested in my personal blog preferences. I just wanted to point out to you what I believe is a better way to manage your information bubble. You may give it a try! And if you have stories, comments, or suggestions on information bubbles, we can discuss the subject in the comments.



    34 comments:

    1. Thanks for taking the time to post these feeds! I agree with you, using a reader (I use Feedly) to aggregate feeds is the way to go.

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    2. Been reading this blog for quite a while. And I trusted you enough to take your recommendation of "I Promessi Sposi", which I never heard of before (it doesn't seem to be well known in the US).
      Thanks for that!
      --Nosmo

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      1. Thanks, Nosmo. I hope you enjoyed Manzoni's novel!

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    3. WHAT? You don't follow the Doomstead Diner?!?!?! We don't even make a list of 70 Blogs???? You have TAE and OFW in there in the teens! Those blogs are DEAD! Nothing new at all there. Gail rehashes the same charts all the time, and since Nicle left TAE all Roel does is rehash the latest newz. Do we have cooties or something? What? I cannot live with this shame. I will have to commit Seppuku immediately.

      Here's the latest on FOOD from Irv Mills and me.

      http://www.doomsteaddiner.net/blog/2020/06/07/food-in-collapse-2-cooking-cheesemaking-fermentation/

      RE

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    4. Thank you for sharing your feed list, Ugo. I use Inoreader (https://inoreader.com/). I'd better subscribe to Doomstead Diner before RE finds his sword.

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      1. Don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube Channel at CollapseCafe.com either!

        I am sharpening my sword now, fine Damascus Steel blade. I will slit my belly and let my entrails spill all over my carpet if I do not get 10 New Subscribers today!

        RE

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      2. Whoops... your site was there, RE. I'll put it back, I'll put it back!!!

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      3. #66 is good, but why aren't we in BOLD with a hyperlink??? :(

        RE

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    5. here the Doomosphere from Gail in German http://energieblogger.at/doomosphaere-fuer-dummerl-interview-der-doom-diva_3272.html energie(energy) blogger is an advertisement free mix of text and i try to make interactive online calculator to make your own conclusions on energy themes.

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    6. A question for the readers: if you click on the linked sites, you are led to the "old reader" site. Can you access the links in this way?

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      1. I received some feedback that, indeed, the links were not manageable by external readers. So, now they link directly to the sites. Should work. If there is some dead link, please let me know

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      2. Didn't know you read french, ...
        ... [Vers où va-t on ?] still links to 'old reader' ...

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    7. I don't believe the bubble theorie is applicable here. (Media theorie has learned Eli Pariser was wrong).

      What seperates you and your "neighbour" is just that your neighbour is easily manipulated by evil meaning people because he is ignorant, believes in authorities and probably suffers from illusory superiority.
      The less people know the more they believe in their own knowledge.

      Being schooled in the scientific method, having real knowledge, questioning everything and, most importantly, questioning one self, protects gainst being factually wrong very often. I also like to think that having problems with authorities helps with recognizing the factually wrong, just as being a (right wing) authoritarian actually means embracing the post factual age.

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    8. This list of quotes is from the illusionary superiority entry in wikipedia:

      Confucius: "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance".
      Socrates: interpreted a prophecy from the Delphic oracle, said that he was wise despite feeling that he did not fully understand anything, as the wisdom of being aware that he knew nothing.
      William Shakespeare: "The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool"
      Alexander Pope: "A little learning is a dangerous thing"
      Charles Darwin: "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge"
      Friedrich Nietzsche: "The Enemies of Truth. — Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies."
      W. B. Yeats "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity."
      Bertrand Russell: "One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision."
      Mark Twain: "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

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    9. Great post! One of the take-aways from my decade of university studies (the 80s) was a post-modernist bend that delved into hermeneutics, philology, epistemology, and dialectical thinking as I studied archaeology. As I explored the idea of personal knowledge construction further and took a few psychology and philosophy courses, it seemed to me that indeed, we develop ideas and beliefs that aim to reduce our cognitive dissonance more than anything else. 'Facts' mean little if they conflict with our dominant belief system, even when obvious and staring us in the face. Interpretation that supports our personal bias takes precedent all the time. I have often been amazed at the groupthink and herding behaviour that I witness in the comment section of many (most? all?) websites, and the aggressiveness I experience when attempting to challenge certain thoughts can reach a point (almost always ad hominem) where I discontinue commenting or visiting the site, a sure means of strengthening the echo chamber that exists.
      My most recent experience in this 'attack' was on Facebook where a friend posted a link to an algorithm that suggests a list of your Facebook Friends that should immediately be deleted. The link does not say on what basis this list is compiled and I raised this point, further suggesting that the assumption that people should be eliminated from your contacts because they may hold differing opinions is counterproductive to furthering one's understanding and comprehension of alternative perspectives on events, ideas, etc.. Not one of the responses I received addressed the issue of the inputs that went into making the 'defriend' list but rather gave me rationalisations for eliminating people because they were 'racist' or supported a racist...a conclusion one cannot reach based on the information provided but very much in many people's minds presently because of George Floyd's death.
      As I stated on a Facebook post a few days ago with a link to a Caitlin Johnstone article: "The world is a fascinating, complex mess while our perception and interpretation of it tends to be quite simple in comparison. We think we understand things and see through the clutter and noise, but do we? And are we being aided by those who filter the 'news' and events, or are we being manipulated?

      When ever I read media accounts of the world, I remind myself constantly of Mark Twain's insight: If you don't read the news you are uninformed; if you read the news you are misinformed. Things are seldom (if ever) what they seem on the surface."

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      1. I blocked a few people on facebook -- it is because I need to maintain some mental sanity. As soon as you start disagreeing with someone, the exchange immediately veers to insults. I can't understand why people have become so nervous, or maybe yes. It is the format of Facebook that leads to this behavior. I myself recognize of having been nasty with other people. It is adrenaline doing its work. But it is terrible. One more reason why blogs are better than Facebook.

        But I agree, an algorthm that tells you who you should block on the basis of ideological differences seems to me a truly stupid idea. But it might be not so bad if it were to work on the basis of some kind of "AI-based troll detection system." Of course, Google could develop it and then they would have even more power on us!

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      2. I find that, unfortunately, many people have lost the ability to agree to disagree, an opinion I often share when I find the other is veering into vitriolic responses to an alternate interpretation of things or questioning of assumptions.

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    10. Thank you Ugo.
      My dear wife thinks I live in an echo chamber. I think she has a delusional faith in the MSM and desperately wants BAU to continue forever.
      I had not thought of your hierarchy of media but had been slowly coming to the same conclusion with regard to reliability and truthfulness. (Having once trusted the NYT and WaPo and now just going with facts based AP/UPI reporting for "news".
      I too have settled on about 50 or so blogs that I read (of which at least 20 or so you listed). Most are fact/science based with an at least modicum of rational thought. I also read a few like The Saker that have dubious provenance. Unlike you (you are brave), I can't bring myself to read the denialist verbiage, it's just to depressing/nonsensical.
      Your site is right up there with the best of them.
      Thanks

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    11. We are creatures of instinct, driven by the drive for survival and reproduction and by tribalism. Many thoughts bubble up from the ancient reptilian part of our brains. Free will is often an illusion. Why does a billionaire want more money: to satisfy their tribal instinct for status.

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    12. Ugo, I am reminded of the comment by Peter richerson and robert Boyd in "not by genes alone" where they say: "all animals are under stringent selection pressure, to be as stupid as they can get away with". this explains a lot of the "fake news" and our willingness to accept it. you yourself highlight one of the benefits of a blog is that you can learn to trust (or mistrust) the author, and so you don't really need to critically assess the content, only the status of trust you have for the author needs to be considered. So maybe rational argument is inherently a loosing strategy when trying to sway a popultion towards a longer term goal or to understand the group behaviour. Maybe charisma of the author is the key issue. And so, perhaps the commoditification of information, turning it into entertainment, is not so vacuous after all!

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      1. Yes: Trust is the basis of knowledge. We couldn't possibly check every detail of what we know ourselves. But trust must be deserved: that's the key point!

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    13. I'm a little shocked that ZeroHedge doesn't make the list.
      ;-)
      You may not be politically "thoroughly" engaged, but you're still an activist of sorts ... rooting for a cause.
      You'll however never be as effective as you can be if you don't "know your enemy".
      You might thing that you currently do ... but mark my words, indoctrination --American style -- has had a very peculiar compounding effect over the years.

      Founded by two ex-trader found guilty of 'insider trading', their names and bios has been revealed a few years ago, but they both sign under the Pseudonym Tyler Durden (fictional character of the 'Fight Club' movie)
      Their libertarian ideological autism aside, they still provide somewhat of a cynical relief over all things business, economics, bank & finance related...

      ...but the commenters are so abysmally stupid, vile and racist, that I can't help myself being the best troll I can be, pointing to the incoherence of there position while laughing my ass off.
      If you want to understand McCarthyism's offshoots, the degenerative process of American "Conservatism", Trump, Bannon, and the mindset that enabled them, it's probably the best place.
      The comment section is a vile cesspool, but still useful; you have to understand the depths of the intellectual depravity that's out there if you want to know what you're up against.

      Interestingly, they used to be regular cross-posters of Gail Tveberg's articles, as well as up until recently; James Howard Kunstler (a Doomerish fiction novelist, journalist and blogger)

      I have to confess, there is a weirdly morbid pleasure to be had monitoring the Machine's convulsions as collapse begins in earnest.
      -------------------------
      -------------------------
      On a more "positive" & "constructive" note, I'd recommend an awesome blog that's been consistently & thoroughly on point since I started reading it ... I guess about 2 years ago: Tom Watkin's Consciousness of Sheep. (a UK perspective)
      Even handed and rigorous; he's concise yet always provides a thorough overview of the subject matter with a lot of substance.
      He's what I came to consider to be a Healthily-Balanced-Yet-Still-Biting-Kickass-Doomer.
      I'm increasing considering becoming a blogger myself, and substance-wise, I aspire to his level. I don't doubt that I can pull it off, but being a bitter Canadian steel worker grunt, my posts may inadvertently [cough] get spiked by a colorful array of expletive enhancements even if substance alone would drive the point home.
      What can I say, ... I think the time for niceties is coming to an end; it's the Angry-Doomers'-Who-Saw-It-Coming's time to shine, and I'd very much like to be one to help with their emancipation...
      Hope I can count on all of you to come by and say hello ... ;-)

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      1. Of course I know Zero Hedge. The problem with it is the same as with other sites: they publish so often that they overshadow all the other sites in the feeder. So, I don't keep Zero Hedge in there, I just take a look at it at times.

        And, yes, the Consciousness of Sheep is a good site. It was in the feeder, then it disappeared from it for some reason. I put it back in there!

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    14. I'd venture that basic arithmetic alone ought to convince any thinking person of the reality of climate change. Any physical quantity growing at an exponential rate -- such as the amount of carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere, or for that matter the amount of the planet's resources we consume -- quickly escalates to truly astronomical magnitudes. The late Professor Albert Bartlett explained it all in his superb lectures. And if simple arithmetic can't make the skeptic see clearly the danger we face, then all reason is beyond him.

      That's the beauty of mathematics. It's ideology-proof and you can't negotiate with the results of a mathematical calculation. It matters not if you're a Catholic or Protestant or atheist or conservative or liberal or straight or gay or pro-life or feminist or whatever; 1+1 will always equal 2. One may of course choose to ignore this reality because of one's beliefs or ideology, but one cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring it. Sorry.

      My one further reply to climate skeptics is that I have no quarrel with what they wish to believe or not to believe as long as they happen to live on another planet -- because then if they screw up their planet big time as a result of following their beliefs, they're the ones who will have to suffer for their mistake, not I. The only trouble is that their butt and mine happen to rest on the same ball of rock, so I'll have to suffer for their mistake. And that's not on.

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    15. Hola dear Ugo Bardi, I am delighted and honored to find ye olde "Madam Mayo" blog on your list. For a number of years now I have been reading every post on your blog. I heartily agree with you that a collection of thoughtfully curated blogs can be a rich source of information. Indeed, I have yet to find a columnist in the NYT et as consistently worth reading as some of my go-to bloggers. My list of blogs I follow is as quirky as yours... and I am relishing visiting the ones here that I was not already aware of... Grazie!

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      1. Yes, the "olde Madam Mayo" is a very nice job that I try to follow. And thanks for showing up in these comments!

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    16. Thanks for sharing the idea of aggregators. I first encountered the concept a decade ago as a proposal for a dynamic set of readings for a university course; " a textbook." The teacher could create the list of sources, and/or could solicit contributions from the class.

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    17. Dear Ugo

      I use inoreader as a feed reader.
      It allows following other ppl's feed's bundles

      I wonder if you happen to know any of the belows blogs

      http://ricefarmer.blogspot.com/

      https://surplusenergyeconomics.wordpress.com/

      https://paularbair.wordpress.com/2018/01/05/the-world-in-2018-part-one/

      BTW. some few version ago teh firefox browser had a "dynamic bookmarks " feature which was a feed reader functionality implemanted in the browser. teh feature was discontinued due to a lack of usage :-(

      Hardly anyone knows nowadays what RSS is :-(

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      1. Yes, I think they want to eliminate blogs as independent sources of information -- and they are succeeding at that, unfortunately. Thanks for the links, I'll check them!

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      2. BTW, I had the ricefarmer in my feed, but I took it out because of too many links! Hyperabundance is not always a good thing

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      3. Yea! I agree the ricefarmer is an overkill :-)
        I mostly plod throu titles and read the vhosen one or two.

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    18. I’m surprised to learn that you place blogs at the top (er, bottom, meaning best) of your list. I agree but thought I was an outlier in that respect. On top of the blog posts themselves, I also value the comments section, at least until they number more than a dozen or so and become unwieldy. With smaller blogs that public no more than 2 or 3 times per week, the commentariat adds considerable value. Exceptions are trolls trying to score rhetorical points in a competition no one is tracking and self-aggrandizers busy promoting their own blogs and online profiles. I learn over time which to give my attention and which to ignore.

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    Who

    Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)