A NOT SO OP-ED: CAN YOU TELL WHEN YOU ARE BEING DECEIVED? A JOURNEY THROUGH THE SCIENCE OF LYING

It really is an important question: Can you tell when you are being deceived? Somebody tells you, “Oh, that’s not true.” But several weeks later, more information comes out and what the person told you, which was claimed to be not true, was really true. Did he deceive you? Maybe not, if he was unaware of the other information. Consider the opposite. Another writer proclaims some information or event to be true. Other writers chime in and agree with him. But, again, several weeks pass, and this time, we find out that the information was wrong. Honest mistake? Maybe, maybe not.


Motive, intent, competence and other factors can determine whether the factual claim was mis-reported or intentionally fabricated. A rule of thumb in journalism is that the third story gets it right. A shooting, an attack, or an outrageous statement made by someone typically need to go through three news cycles before checking the original story determines the correct facts.


The process by which the original information gets checked involves scores of other researchers and writers determining the validity of the original claim. When further research uncovers evidence that the writer had an ulterior motive for claiming what he did, then one has to ask about lying.


The “science of lying” has a name: Agnotology. It is a curious choice of words, but the meaning is clear. Instead of lying, we call it “false knowledge” or “fake news”. A close and deep examination of the idea of false knowledge leads you to some very mind-bending places.


The mind-bending starts with how agnotology is even defined. The Wikipedia entry is really the only place to start. Aside from the book that coined in the term in 1995, there is no authoritative definition of agnotology. There was a conference on the subject in 2005. It uses an unfortunate phrase: The “production of cultural ignorance” defines agnotology. That is an entirely insufficient term to define the concept. Agnotology does end up being an all-embracing concept that incorporates much more than just the “production of cultural ignorance”. A few moments reflection on the implications of “false knowledge” leads one to some horrible places intellectually.


Consider that one of the objectives of “false knowledge” is to keep you away from true knowledge. If I create an elaborate body of false knowledge, that will effectively prevent you from “learning the truth”. The nature of the false knowledge plays on your fears and manipulates your emotions in such a way that it becomes a real struggle to apply logic and reasoning on a consistent basis.


Going back to “ignorance” for a moment, academics like to build their systems of thought around ignorance as a starting point. Is this a good approach? If your objective is to develop a plan for educating people, then it may make sense. However, if the objective is to build a system of false knowledge resting on a defined foundation of ignorance about key topics

BUT, we are learning everyday about groups of people whose JOB it is to lie to you in every way possible. So, how far can one go with lying a lot? The answer is you would be surprised at how far, and we still have not found the end point. Propagandist is a real job. They are called “propaganda artists” and get paid to produce propaganda.


The largest army of professional propagandists is in China. Known as the fifty-cent party, this is a term to suggest what they are paid by the communist Chinese government to post attacks against critics from anywhere around the world. An analysis suggests that since 2016, there have been billions of posts by hundreds of millions Many of these posts are also found on an ostensibly American site called reddit.com. They got a $110 million investment from the fifty-cent party. Has Reddit been compromised as a result? You will have to decide for yourself.

There is a smaller, but no less effective, army of propagandists. These people are much harder to trace, and much harder to identify. However, some investigative journalists have, over the years, produced research suggesting strongly that Americans have been subjected to despicable forms of media manipulation since at least the 1960s. The research pointed strongly to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). This agency is supposed to operate outside the United States. This restriction has been long ignored by them.


Disinformation Versus Dysinformation – Propaganda covers many creative ways to distort facts. Two broad categories are disinformation and disinformation. The first alters factual information, and the second creates entirely fictious information. The sad truth is that the CIA has been in a better position than communists or other organizations to develop whole systems of dysinformation. They have influenced journalists for a long time. The unspoken job of the CIA is to possess a deep understanding of cultural standards and individual psychology. In all fairness, the Soviets of the Cold War and today’s Russians still have played a significant role in getting Americans to support Marxism.


The worst examples involve creating disinformation entirely intended only to confuse and divided people against each other. The old saying “divide and conquer” remains true in the world of news media.


There are 29 synonyms for lying from thesaurus.com:

Misleading, dissembling, dissimulating, double-crossing, double-dealing, equivocating, falsifying,

fibbing, inventing, misrepresenting, misstating, prevaricating, two-timing, wrong, committing perjury, deceitful, deceptive, delusive, delusory, false, guileful, mendacious, perfidious, shifty.

The thesaurus has only three words that are the opposite of lying: honest, direct, frank

At the very least, this tells one that in the English language, there is a high value put on lying; so high, there are 29 different ways to describe lying. What does that do? It creates massive confusion about what defines lying.


The more one explores where lying and truth-telling meet, the more complex and troubling the picture becomes. Gullibility in many people gives lying a natural advantage. History is filled with so many examples, one has to refer an information source that makes sense of it all. Extraordinary Popular Delusions & The Madness of Crowds is a classic book about how large groups of people can be manipulated.


A true history of propaganda as a tool of military conflict and social control goes far back into the mists of time. Deceit has always been a vital tool of military strategy. However, the academic formalization of propaganda is much more recent. Depending on who you are talking to, a rigorous study of propaganda can be dated back to roughly 1900 and the emergence of Hollywood, or to Goebbels, the head of propaganda for the Nazi party during World Warr II. He has been considered the father of moden progaganda. He is said to have credited Hollywood for everything he learned about propaganda. More properly, these can be understood in terms of two more common activities: Marketing and advertising.


One can spend a whole school year just studying the moral and ethical questions around the cosmetics industry. The idea that a company panders to women’s insecurities by selling a product that may not deliver what it promises leads to many questions about perception, emotions, and, yes, facts. The arguments over beauty products can extend to food products or health care. What are the ethics of a company that figures out how to inject more water into margarine in order to lower the calories and sell it as “low-fat”?


Have those customers been lied to by the companies? If so, have the lies been carefully crafted with messages that fit the customer’s hopes and fears?


A Science of Lying implies experimentation. That said, the above examples show that a vast treasure trove of empirical knowledge has been gained over the last hundred years. So, there is a clear sense of what works and what doesn’t work. However, the rise of the internet and social media challenges what has been learned by trial and error. It has extended the ideas about what constitutes warfare among nations.


The level of sophistication over messaging and how to influence otherwise hostile audiences is part of the discussion in another book of note. Unrestricted Warfare was written in 1999 by two colonels of the People’s Liberation Army. The essence of their message is that information is another form of warfare, needs to be used creatively and to the fullest extent possible in order to fight the enemy.


One of the more interesting claims is that by winning the information war, one can avoid a real war. Since war uses deceit as a strategic tool, agnotology plays a key role defeating any enemy.

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