"Are you overwhelmed at the amount, contradictions, and craziness of all the information coming at you in this age of social media and twenty-four-hour news cycles? 

Fake News, Propaganda, and Plain Old Lies will show you how to identify deceptive information as well as how to seek out the most trustworthy information in order to inform decision making in your personal, academic, professional, and civic lives.

• Learn how to identify the alarm bells that signal untrustworthy information.
• Understand how to tell when statistics can be trusted and when they are being used to deceive.
• Inoculate yourself against the logical fallacies that can mislead even the brightest among us." 


The author of the book is Donald A Barclay, librarian, who gave an interview to Publisher's Weekly last September. This excerpt mirrors a part of the preface, which I will dictate and post below. Dude sounds like a dang Objectivist here, if a plodder ...


Fake news is certainly a timely topic, but tell me a little bit about the genesis of this book.


Well, the idea started in 2016, when fake news really blew up. And it occurred to me as a librarian that this is nothing new; this is just information literacy. This is about trying to decide what’s credible and not credible, what suits your information need and what doesn’t. Now, there are a lot of books about fake news coming out written from one political position or another. But my intention was to be as politically neutral as possible. Because when you step back and look at it, people at all ends of the political spectrum stretch the truth.

You raise a good point about the rise of fake news—the term’s commonality is new, but it’s not a new phenomenon. Why has today’s information environment made authority such a difficult issue for so many Americans to parse?

Right. Fake news is not new at all. But the incredible volume of information out there in the digital age just blows away anything that existed before, as does the speed at which information travels, and the low cost—almost zero, in fact—at which information can be created and distributed. In 1980, if you had some crackpot conspiracy theory and you wanted to try and influence as many people as possible, you’d have to type something up and go to Kinko’s to make copies. But on the internet today, you can crank out one conspiracy theory idea after another and put them online, where millions of people might see them. And with social media, maybe your friends or your uncle or your mother picks up and reposts one of these things—suddenly, it doesn’t feel like it’s coming from a stranger; it’s coming from someone you trust, so it feels more intimate, and real.

In talking with librarians, I’ve found that more libraries are now hosting workshops for the public on fake news and information literacy. Information literacy has always been a core mission of libraries, of course, but it certainly seems to have become more urgent. What advice would you give to librarians who are putting together programs like this?

I think the emotional component of information is an important part of this. I’ll give you an example: the recent op-ed published anonymously in the New York Times. People who don’t like Donald Trump are going, “Yeah, we knew that was what was happening.” But what if Breitbart published an anonymous op-ed like that during the Obama administration?

My point is that it is easier to be critical of things that don’t resonate with you. When something does resonate—whether it makes you scared, angry, happy, or smug—those are the things you should probably check out and make sure the information’s credible. It’s really about making good decisions. And the impact information has on someone—if it challenges or reaffirms someone’s deeply held beliefs, for example—will often determine what kind of effort they put into evaluating it.

And the other part of this is that, because we have so much information coming at us these days, it’s just impossible to evaluate it all, right? We have to sort of triage it. And I think that’s important to keep in mind, too, because one of the dangers of this information overload is that people will give up—“It’s all BS, so I’m just going to go with what feels right.” And that’s not a good place to work from—that kind of total cynicism, that everything’s a lie so we might as well not even try.

-- cross-linking here to a dedicated Front Porch topic thread "Fake News," and to a "fake news" OL-internal-search page of this blog, "Friends and Foes." There are at this moment 732 items in the "Fake News" phrase search returns of the whole of the Objectivist Living community.

The subtitle to Barclay's book is "How to Find Trustworthy Information in the Digital Age."


Recommended Comments

If Rich thumbdrived those emails to Assange and Billy’s people needed Trump’s “Russia” to have over-the-internet hacked those emails (and also Rich needed punishing) and so they murdered him, would they also be morally and organizationally capable of blackmailing his family and pressing a lawsuit against Fox?

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Or Billy and his people are falling for yet another trick, pushing this story for us, we are protecting the family, lawsuit our doing, just a way to introduce evidence into the courts and show the world more truths.

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Please continue pushing this one Billy, hard and everywhere.

Your audience is totally buying that all you leftie dingbats are genuinely fired up about a report on Fox in the middle of 2017 that has terribly victimized a family. Nothing causes emotional trauma quite like a suggestion that your son was a hero whistleblower assassinated by Killery, not randomly victimized by members of the street gang MS-13. Who could go on living after hearing that 1st amendment protected suggestion? They are so brave. The D.C. Police said it was gang bangers and there is so much serenity in that. Then those meanie emotionally abusive Fox people said it wouldn't have been Killery's first hit and now the family can't go on emotionally without some Fox cash and all of you progressives are right there with them, oh it just takes my breath away! This is the winner.

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7 hours ago, Jon Letendre said:

Or Billy and his people are falling for yet another trick, pushing this story for us, we are protecting the family, lawsuit our doing, just a way to introduce evidence into the courts and show the world more truths.

At your leisure of course, but do kindly put the star recommendation badge on the above comment, Billy.

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The book is fairly breezy in style, but I am only slowly getting my money's worth -- I tend to read non-fiction in a non-linear manner first, using the table of contents, index, notes and 'key words' to direct my initial foray. Slow readers of the world, unite!

Here's one of my favourite passages so far (on page 45, chapter "Fake News as Phenomena"):


Is The Furore Over Fake News Yet Another Moral Panic?

With all the attention paid to the fake news phenomenon -- especially the gloomy predictions that the world may be heading into some kind of post-truth dark ages in which science, reason, and facts no longer matter -- it is worth asking if all the hand-wringing is no more than another moral panic that will soon burn out and be remembered, if at all, with embarrassment and, possibly, shame?

As pointed out several times in this chapter, neither fake news nor propaganda are new phenomena. And even though the harm caused by propaganda has it times in history been devastating (as happened in Nazi Germany), free and democratic societies generally right themselves before allowing propaganda to take them completely over the edge. The existence of propaganda, though a risk, does not necessarily spell doom for society.

Similarly, while people can, and often do, debate the role of fake news in increasing the polarization of society, the existence of a polarized society itself is nothing new. Looking at the history of the United States, events like the Revolutionary War and the Civil War were more than polarizing disagreements -- they were bloody conflicts that divided society into armed camps. Literally. Until the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States was quite polarized when it came to whether the country should get involved in World War II. In the 1960s the Vietnam War sharply divided the country into pro- and antiwar camps that clashed violently on a number of occasions. It is possible that fake news has made societal splits worse, but that thesis is yet to be conclusively proven. It may be that fake news, along with other forms of digital information, has done nothing more than make it harder to ignore how divided people have almost always been."Harder to ignore" is not, of course the same thing as "caused."

Brief trade  reviews from the Amazon page for the book (longer versions of a couple here😞



  • [Barclay's] chapter on fake news provides a clear and succinct overview of the not-so-new phenomenon and the factors that have contributed to its recent proliferation (e.g., information overload, search engine optimization, and political bots). And his evaluation (and endorsement) of Wikipedia as a viable of information source is spot-on.(Publishers Weekly)
  • The callout section on the Dunning-Kruger effect (inadvertently) explains much of what’s happening in America’s political climate; readers will find it chilling. Additionally helpful are chapters devoted to finding and evaluating scholarlyinformation and a list of helpful resources—turns out there are a lot more options than just Snopes.com.Librarians may find this a useful resource, but it should be read by anyone who wants to better understand fake news and to better discern its presence and defend oneself against it. Barclay addresses this timely topic in a readable manner, free from jargon. (Booklist)
  • No serious collection should be without this specific approach to independent, critical thinking and fact-finding. (Donovan's Bookshelf)
  • This book provides readable, practical guidance from a librarian and scholar of information literacy on understanding the trustworthiness of information in an era of fake facts. In Fake News, Propaganda, and Plain Old Lies, Donald Barclay provides useful information about the tricks such as logical and statistical fallacies used to create false facts. The book will provide value to high school teachers, undergraduate teachers and students, librarians, and parents who want to guide young people and the general public to being information-literate. (William Aspray, professor, Information Science, University of Colorado Boulder)

About the Author

Donald A. Barclay has been a professional academic librarian since 1990, having formerly held positions at New Mexico State University, the University of Houston, and the Houston Academy of Medicine—Texas Medical Center Library. He is currently the Deputy University Librarian at the University of California, Merced, where he has been employed since 2002. As a librarian, he has decades of experience in teaching students how to become more information literate. Besides working as a librarian, he was employed for four years as a special lecturer in composition and literature at Boise State University and also worked for ten years as a seasonal wildland fire fighter for the United States Forest Service.


Edited by william.scherk
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