The Misinformation Age How False Beliefs Spread Cailin O'Connor, James Owen Weatherall

Publication date:
24 Jan 2019
Yale University Press
280 pages: 210 x 140mm
16 b-w illus.

Why should we care about having true beliefs? And why do demonstrably false beliefs persist and spread despite consequences for the people who hold them? Philosophers of science Cailin O'Connor and James Weatherall argue that social factors, rather than individual psychology, are what’s essential to understanding the spread and persistence of false belief. It might seem that there's an obvious reason that true beliefs matter: false beliefs will hurt you. But if that's right, then why is it (apparently) irrelevant to many people whether they believe true things or not?
In an age riven by "fake news," "alternative facts," and disputes over the validity of everything from climate change to the size of inauguration crowds, the authors argue that social factors, not individual psychology, are what’s essential to understanding the persistence of false belief and that we must know how those social forces work in order to fight misinformation effectively.

Cailin O’Connor is assistant professor of logic and philosophy of science at the University of California, Irvine. James Owen Weatherall is professor of logic and philosophy of science at the University of California, Irvine, and author of the New York Times best-seller The Physics of Wall Street. Both are members of the Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Science. They reside in California.

"Fake news has revealed a dark side of networks: an almost unstoppable ability to spread false and misleading information, changing people's perception of reality and shaking the political establishment. The Misinformation Age is a timely, engaging narrative of how this happened and how the mix of fake news and networks is changing our world."—Albert-László Barabási, author of Linked: The New Science of Networks

"An important book for an era of weaponized information. False beliefs aren’t due to stupidity or cognitive biases, but to the trust that all of us necessarily place in others. It has to be tackled at the systems level, and the authors offer some provocative ideas for how."—George Musser, contributing editor for Scientific American and Nautilus magazines

"In this perilous moment—when knowledge is powerfully eroded by new and effective campaigns of misinformation—O’Connor and Weatherall offer a critically important philosophical defense of evidence, facts, and above all, the truth."—Allan M. Brandt, Harvard University