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Oh noes! Teh Internets makez u gulible

September 28th, 2009

Another “Internets makes you stupid story” from the Brisbane Courier-Mail (irony detector overload alert !!).

The original source is something called the Levitt Institute and the Courier-Mail story is a pretty fair summary of the Levitt Institute report, which is here (PDF). I’ll leave the deconstruction as an exercise for readers, with a bonus mark for the question “Which basic concept of classical hypothesis testing is ignored in this study of ‘ability to detect erroneous information'”

Update xxx ????? sex ????? ?? ??????? Sucked in! It turns out the whole thing is in fact a hoax by Andrew Denton’s new show.. Sad to say, with the irony detector already blown, it’s hard to tell the difference between genuine and fake stupid. ??????? ?????????

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  1. Ikonoclast
    September 28th, 2009 at 08:24 | #1

    Gee, now I recall that gullibility existed before the Internet. Some people, usually salespeople and dodgy businessmen revelled in this fact. They had favourite sayings like “Bulldust baffles brains” and sold cladding for already perfectly clad houses. Sometimes they even sold the Sydney Harbour Bridge… or am I being gullible for citing that one? 😉

  2. Jill Rush
    September 28th, 2009 at 08:59 | #2

    Is this akin to “there is one born every minute” – a belief that preceded the internet by a long time and immortalised in the novel ” The Illywacker”. Would it have made a difference to the study if they had put forward information that actually mattered to people?

  3. September 28th, 2009 at 09:20 | #3

    Well, I have no idea about the bonus mark question. Someone else will have to draw me a picture there.

    I can say though, that the number and style of basic typographical errors (eg: “responces” and “decieve” in the figures on p6) detract from its credibility.

  4. jonathan holmes
    September 28th, 2009 at 10:43 | #4

    It’s all about gullibility. Watch Media Watch tonight. 9.20 ABC 1

  5. Shaun
    September 28th, 2009 at 10:57 | #5

    The questionnaire claims to test the respondents’ critical thinking skills, but in reality it could just be testing their general knowledge. If a respondent knows for a fact that Captain James Cook was not polygamous, they do not need to use their critical thinking skills to recognise the article as false – they can simply rely on factual recall.

    The questionnaire would need to be designed in a way that separated critical thinking skills from factual recall. Perhaps this could be achieved by including filter questions that establish the respondent’s level of factual knowledge of a topic. If the respondent knows the relevant fact, they are asked to skip that article and go to the next question.

  6. September 28th, 2009 at 12:35 | #6

    Oops could not remember anything. I had to cheat. Thank you internet and Google, you made up for my deficiencies.

  7. September 28th, 2009 at 14:51 | #7

    The internet has made no difference to the old maxim that “A fool and his (her) money are soon parted”. The question of how they got the money in the first place remains unanswered.
    Doubtless many here will have opinions.

  8. Tony G
    September 28th, 2009 at 14:59 | #8

    “The study’s findings also suggest the internet has led to increased gullibility among younger Australians as they become used to trusting unsourced information from websites like Wikipedia and Digg,”

    There are also a few older AGW proponents around here who suffer the same gullibility.

  9. Alice
    September 28th, 2009 at 15:37 | #9

    I want to know the answer to the bonus question…

  10. nanks
    September 28th, 2009 at 17:01 | #10

    My reading was that the study didn’t address anything about the internet at all

  11. Crispin Bennett
    September 28th, 2009 at 17:13 | #11

    Hmm. Riddled with potential confounds and with some of the bluntest causal conclusions drawn from correlational data that I’ve seen in alleged publication. I take it the paper is a joke, or an exercise for student critiques? Based on the briefest of skim reads, admittedly, so perhaps I’ve missed some qualifications.

  12. Freelander
    September 28th, 2009 at 18:46 | #12

    The Brisbane Courier-Mail article doesn’t seem to be on the web anymore.

  13. SJ
    September 28th, 2009 at 19:03 | #13

    It’s not surprising they’ve taken it down. It was the Courier mail that was shown to be gullible.

    Denton show owns up to media hoax

  14. Crispin Bennett
    September 28th, 2009 at 19:12 | #14

    I’m almost relieved. The ‘study’ really was too bad to be true.

  15. jquiggin
    September 28th, 2009 at 19:58 | #15

    @Crispin Bennett
    “The ’study’ really was too bad to be true.”

    Sadly, no.

  16. jquiggin
    September 28th, 2009 at 20:00 | #16

    @Tony G

    Tony G wins special bonus points for being the only one to cite the “study’s” “results” with anything other than derision.

  17. Crispin Bennett
    September 28th, 2009 at 20:41 | #17

    OK, perhaps there is stuff that bad out there. But you’d think a Google Scholar search on the author might have been within the journalistic competence even of a NewsCorp (a fortiori Courier Mail!) reporter. The spelling and other mistakes in the report might perhaps also have raised a whiff of rat.

    At least we now know how trivial an effort it will be to get press coverage for our think tank startups.

  18. Alice
    September 28th, 2009 at 21:37 | #18

    I know what the broken rule is. The authors are not normally distributed. Go Denton!!

  19. Alice
    September 28th, 2009 at 21:40 | #19

    And its not the readers that are gullible…its the media..as we suspected all along. Rupe is a dupe – what a loverly hoax!!

  20. Freelander
    September 28th, 2009 at 22:13 | #20

    A start up think tank is bound to be reported (by Rupert) if it has the right slant.

  21. Alice
    September 28th, 2009 at 22:16 | #21

    ha ha Freelander – agree

  22. Tony G
    September 28th, 2009 at 22:29 | #22

    John, seeing we are on the subject of derision.

    Can we start deriding ‘old’ AGW proponents who ‘believe’ in that IPCC hoax?

  23. Fran Barlow
    September 28th, 2009 at 22:40 | #23

    @Tony G

    Well we can continue deriding those who are victims of the AGW is a scam hoax

  24. Tony G
    September 28th, 2009 at 22:55 | #24

    Fran are u over 50?

  25. September 28th, 2009 at 23:31 | #25

    the AGW is a scam, hoax?

  26. SJ
    September 28th, 2009 at 23:42 | #26

    It’s worth clicking on the link in the fake Tony G’s name above. It goes to an appropriate video of comedian Denis Leary on YouTube.

  27. Alice
    September 29th, 2009 at 06:57 | #27

    Good one SJ!!! I was getting confused and was starting to wonder whether the real Tony G had been hoaxing us all along….

  28. Fran Barlow
    September 29th, 2009 at 09:02 | #28

    @Tony G Moi, over 50?

    By one year …

  29. Fran Barlow
    September 29th, 2009 at 09:18 | #29

    @Tony G re: the AGW is a scam hoax

    Yes … that one.

    One feels for the victims because many of them are also victims of realted hoaxes. For example:

    1. Al Gore got fat on carbon credits
    2. The world is only 6000 years old even though climate has been changing for billions of years
    3. Scientists are making this up to get grants so that

    a) they can give themselves and computer modellers jobs
    b) they can, in concert with socialist nihilists and lovers of GAIA bring down western civilisation while raising taxes and having government control our lives give money to rent-seeking capitalists while transferring wealth to the third world and wanting to stifle third world development to ease the consciences of latte-sipping middle class liberal elites.
    4. Obama is a radical Muslim born in Kenya/Hell who is Satan’s lovechild/the anti-christ a racist garveyite black nationalist christian Marcusian Manchurian candidate who wants to grab our guns and condemn religion, only worse, which is why he favours doing something about global warming (see 3(b) above).
    5. Smoking causing lung cancer, and HIV causing AIDS are hoaxes (add to 3(b) above)

    It really is very sad, these vulnerable people being exploited like that.

    Perhaps we need some sort of program to help them, but as Frank Schaeffer rightly pointed out on Rachel Maddow’s show, a village cannot reorganize village life to suit the village idiot.

  30. September 29th, 2009 at 09:53 | #30

    Right Fran,

    Next you will be saying if Australia cuts carbon emissions by 100%, kills every cow and sheep, bans every car and turns off every coal fired power station, that it will halt the increase of carbon in the atmosphere.

    Well Fran I think your hoax has been exposed, because if Australia did all those things and we ended up living in the dark and starving, there would be no measurable change to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

    The only way to cool the atmosphere is to stop AGW proponents from blowing hot air.

  31. Alice
    September 29th, 2009 at 09:58 | #31

    @Fran Barlow
    Fran – click on the link on Tony G’s name.
    This is the best hoax ever…will the real Tony G please stand up!
    I like the imposter better. He can stay.

  32. Fran Barlow
    September 29th, 2009 at 10:55 | #32

    I’ve no idea who the “real” Tony G is or why this should be relevant, and I don’t take things at face value on the internet anyway.

    My observations stand. AGW denial is a scam that has apparently snared many people.

    This “Tony G” is obviously doing one kind of troll or another and my care factor about the reason or precise nature of it approaches zero.

  33. Alice
    September 29th, 2009 at 11:08 | #33

    @Fran Barlow
    The real Tony G has more in common with the link to his name when it comes to helping the environmental initiatives….he should just get out of the way or prepare to get run over.

    He already has been thousands of times in here and its really best not to wake him up on his favourite bugbear (Im sure its Wilson Tuckey in disguise)!

    Now I think the real Tony G is actually here. He has got all confused (and is confusing me – he keeps going on about AGW proponents…well the real Tony G is one – an AGW propoent (anti global warming) – Thats his favourite topic.

    Fran GW denial is a cooked up scam (not AGW). Im in complete double negative confusion over this. Too many laps and late brekkie.

  34. September 29th, 2009 at 11:32 | #34

    Maybe you are right Fran, as demonstrated the perception of AGW proponents is easy to fool as it is pretty clear Tony G is an as*hole; I know myself pretty well.

    What is relevant to us all though is, if Australia did all those things (mentioned in comment 30) and we ended up living in the dark and starving, there would be no measurable change to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. (sweet fa)

    I challenge any AGW hoaxer here to disprove that fact.

  35. Alice
    September 29th, 2009 at 12:01 | #35

    @Tony G
    You put the link there Tony. If the cap fits…

  36. Fran Barlow
    September 29th, 2009 at 12:45 | #36


    Alice, the A in AGW stands for anthropogenic, not anti. Thus the claim that AGW is a scam is a hoax. No multiple negatives there.

  37. Alice
    September 29th, 2009 at 16:12 | #37

    @Fran Barlow

    Thanks Fran. I was under the WONG impression (Doh!). Compwetely WONG.

  38. Alice
    September 29th, 2009 at 16:21 | #38

    Anyway back to the point of the Hoax – how clever is that?? Seriously! That Denton is a laugh. We know we read absolute garbage in Australian newspapers day after day……and now we know how they get it…from email and faxes and a colour printer or two, whack the work “instute” on the end, throw in a couple of fake qualifications and “academic” history and bingo! The media is yours for the taking.

    Take a bow IPA and take a bow Rupe!!! This is your life!.

  39. rog
    September 29th, 2009 at 19:25 | #39

    “it’s hard to tell the difference between genuine and fake stupid.’

    Exactly, but keep on keeping on

  40. Freelander
    September 29th, 2009 at 19:53 | #40

    I would have thought that anyone with the vaguest education should have seen the ten page report as pretty shonky – especially if they had done a basic course on stats. I was amused to see the AAP claim it was an elaborate hoax. What exactly does that mean? That it was not done with a box of crayons? It highlights the pretensions of ‘journalists’ who are now facing stiff competition from ‘amateurs’ on the web. If many journalists could master the basic skills of reporting and fact checking, and nothing else, then the traditional media would be vastly improved. Although, it is probably unfair to simply blame the journalists. The media barons are simply unwilling to spend the money to ensure they write it right. Accurate reporting and fact checking take extra resources and don’t turn a profit, apparently.

  41. Crispin Bennett
    September 29th, 2009 at 21:47 | #41

    @Freelander: well, if you read a lot of academic papers, skimming does tend to be the order of the day. It would be easy to miss the hoax (though not crap) aspect. But we generally assume the provenance is pukka, which journalists don’t have a right to do. It would take no more than a few minutes with Google Scholar etc to have found out. There are no grounds left on which to trust Australian newspapers on matters of fact: cheap and sloppy, one and all.

  42. SJ
    September 29th, 2009 at 22:16 | #42

    Freelander Says:

    The media barons are simply unwilling to spend the money to ensure they write it right. Accurate reporting and fact checking take extra resources and don’t turn a profit, apparently.

    This is sort of correct, but you may be approaching it from the wrong angle. There’s a better way of thinking about it, and by coincidence, I came across a nice statement of it today by Fran Barlow:

    Perhaps the key problem here is the pervasive but mistaken belief amongst consumers of media content that they are the commercial media’s customers, when they are in fact its product. Access to these audiences is what is sold to those who make commercial media possible — advertisers/sponsors. So the commercial media must shape, exclude and include those who are of sufficient value to enough people willing to pay enough money to get to them. That process is not an unstructured or ‘value-free’ one.

  43. Freelander
    September 29th, 2009 at 23:46 | #43


    Good point. Although to be able to get us to see their real customer’s advertisements the content needs to be good enough to attract our attention. Increasingly traditional media is failing and being out competed by the new media, and by sources of comparatively good information like Wikipedia which is not relying on the profit motive.

  44. gerard
    September 30th, 2009 at 10:25 | #44

    the content needs to be good enough to attract our attention

    we’re talking about the Snail here. Their content only needs to be “good” enough to attract the attention of the lowest common denominator.

  45. Sam
    September 30th, 2009 at 13:32 | #45

    I’m a brave person, so I’ll admit that I can’t get the bonus question here. I noticed that the report contained numerous spelling and grammatical errors, but I’m afraid I just don’t know enough about “classical hypothesis testing” to understand what’s wrong with the methodology. Can someone please enlighten me?

  46. Crispin Bennett
    September 30th, 2009 at 13:48 | #46

    I don’t know what JQ was getting at specifically, but the standout problem for me was the presence of strong causal claims (eg. “culture has a strong
    influence on a society’s ability to detect falsehood”) on the basis of correlational data. The study gives no reason to think that the causal influence shouldn’t go the other way (degree of scepticism influences culture), or that a separate unmeasured factor may not cause both (eg. schooling influences both culture and scepticism). You could argue all of these possibilities, but the data offered don’t discriminate between them.

    The standard slogan here is “correlation does not imply causation”.

  47. nanks
    September 30th, 2009 at 14:08 | #47

    classical statistical hypothesis testing puts forward a null hypothesis and and alternative hyopthesis that opposes the null. Then null is usually a ‘status quo’ type of statement, like – internet usage has no effect on gullibility. The alternative hypothesis might then be ‘Internet usage has an effect on gullibility’. In this case you are making no claims about whether internet usage makes people more or less gullible, you are just going to see if it has an effect.
    I didn’t read the article that closely, but it seemed as if there was no attempt to control for things like someone saying every article was false – they’d have a great detection rate, but they’d be undiscriminating. Maybe it was there I dunno. The main thing I noticed was that there was nothing in the study itself about the internet, so the conclusions about internet usage were unjustified

  48. Alice
    October 3rd, 2009 at 11:09 | #48

    Sam – the “study” is a hoax admitted by Andrew Denton’s team and which made it into 33 news outlets in a day as a “genuine study”. Even the authors name was lifted from a Seinfield TV show (with fake credentials uploaded to wiki only a few weeks prior). The media fell for it…lock, stock and two smoking barrels (from Denton!).

    Its a ripper of a hoax – just goes to show the media wouldnt know a real study from a fake or a real academic from a fake (as we all suspected long long ago…).

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