Post-truth, Open Society, and the Business of Behaviorism

Never before in human history have objective facts been so readily available, and so ignored.

Diluting accurate information can be accomplished by polluting public consciousness with disinformation. By decreasing the signal to noise ratio in this manner, the ordinary public is unable to effectively differentiate what is objectively true and then the mind retreats to where it is most at ease: the seeking of information which confirms preconceived ideas.

Source: Combating Confirmation Bias: Defeating Disinformation Campaigns In The Future By Extending Information Security — The Future of Text

As vast engines of confirmation bias pollute the public consciousness with disinformation, I am reminded of George Soros’ caveat to Karl Popper’s Open Society.

Investor and philanthropist George Soros, a self-described follower of Karl Popper, argued that sophisticated use of powerful techniques of subtle deception borrowed from modern advertising and cognitive science by conservative political operatives such as Frank Luntz and Karl Rove casts doubt on Popper’s view of open society. Because the electorate’s perception of reality can easily be manipulated, democratic political discourse does not necessarily lead to a better understanding of reality. Soros argues that in addition to the need for separation of powers, free speech, and free elections, an explicit commitment to the pursuit of truth is imperative. “Politicians will respect, rather than manipulate, reality only if the public cares about the truth and punishes politicians when it catches them in deliberate deception.”

Source: Open society – Wikipedia

There is no respect for reality from Donald Trump and the GOP. Post-truth is pre-fascism and perhaps the greatest enemy of an open society.

Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Without agreement about some basic facts, citizens cannot form the civil society that would allow them to defend themselves. If we lose the institutions that produce facts that are pertinent to us, then we tend to wallow in attractive abstractions and fictions. Truth defends itself particularly poorly when there is not very much of it around, and the era of Trump — like the era of Vladimir Putin in Russia — is one of the decline of local news. Social media is no substitute: It supercharges the mental habits by which we seek emotional stimulation and comfort, which means losing the distinction between what feels true and what actually is true.

Post-truth wears away the rule of law and invites a regime of myth.

The claim that Trump was denied a win by fraud is a big lie not just because it mauls logic, misdescribes the present and demands belief in a conspiracy. It is a big lie, fundamentally, because it reverses the moral field of American politics and the basic structure of American history.

Source: The American Abyss – The New York Times

What to do? In 2007, Soros said:

What is needed is a concerted effort to identify the techniques of manipulation – and to name and shame those who use them.

Source: From Popper to Rove – and back | US news | The Guardian

Facebook has endured some, but not nearly enough, naming and shaming for merchandizing the tools of mass manipulation. Beyond shaming individual companies, let’s name and shame one of the techniques: behaviorism. For the sake of open society, we should all get out of the behaviorism business.

I would argue, in total seriousness, that one of the places that Skinnerism thrives today is in computing technologies, particularly in “social” technologies. This, despite the field’s insistence that its development is a result, in part, of the cognitive turn that supposedly displaced behaviorism.

Source: B. F. Skinner: The Most Important Theorist of the 21st Century

An Option for No Stats

I’m tired of stats. I’m tired of seeing my writing as piles of graphs and numbers. This is a screenshot of the backend for my RV+neurodiversity lifestyle blog,

Screenshot of the posts list showing my latest posts. The number of views listed for each post is low, 2s and 3s.
Screenshot of the posts list showing my latest posts. The number of views listed for each post is low, 2s and 3s.


The number of views is shown for each post. I rarely mention Wandering Smial publicly. It’s just for me. The numbers shown are tiny and likely always will be.

When I visit the backend, the default screen is stats.

Screenshot of the stats screen for showing a lot of nothing.
Screenshot of the stats screen for showing a lot of nothing.


Maybe someday I’ll share the site more broadly, but, for now, the audience is me. I don’t want to see stats anywhere in the interface of this blog. I want an option to ignore all stats, to un-surface and de-prioritize them, to opt out of gaming myself.

Twitter followers, podcast download stats, blog post views, the scale, whatever. Life isn’t a video game. Happiness doesn’t have a numerical value attached to it.

Source: Hello, 2018

I love data and I hate stats. Not stats in abstract — statistics are great — but the kind of stats that seem to accompany any web activity. Number of followers, number of readers, number of viewers, etc. I hate them in the way that an addict hates that which she loves the most. My pulse quickens as I refresh the page to see if one more person clicked the link. As my eyes water and hours pass, I have to tear myself away from the numbers, the obsessive calculating that I do, creating averages and other statistical equations for no good reason. I gift my math-craving brain with a different addiction, turning to various games — these days, Yushino — to just get a quick hit of addition. And then I grumble, grumble at the increasing presence of stats to quantify and measure everything that I do.

Source: My name is danah and I’m a stats addict. – The Message – Medium

When using WordPress, it’s easy to get the basic numbers of interest: how many visitors, from which part of the world etc. The next level is Google Analytics… what a plethora of settings and numbers! I stared at them all the time after a new post went up, it was exhausting. I thought about which posts get more visitors, what times are better to publish etc. It’s not directly the problem why I didn’t write more regularly, but it’s a reason why I don’t care about any stats anymore: it’s a distraction. There are no Google Analytics or anything enabled, and if I want analytics back at some point it will be something else.

Source: Why I Failed at Blogging – Think Lagom

I still haven’t looked at stats for Timetable. And I’ve resisted adding follower counts and page view stats to for the same reason. If all that drives you is the number of likes on a tweet, or subscribers to your podcast, it’s easy to get discouraged when the numbers don’t pan out. Or worse, overthink your writing when you know a bunch of people are paying attention.

Everyone has something to say. Write because you love it, or to become a better writer, or to develop an idea. The stats should be an afterthought.

Source: Overthinking stats | Manton Reece

So, getting a post read by “everyone” is harder than ever but reaching hundreds or low thousands of audience has never been easier.

By chasing audience we lose the ability to be ourselves. By writing for everyone we write for no one.

When you write for someone else’s publication your writing becomes disparate and UN-networked. By chasing scale and pageviews you lose identity and the ability to create meaningful, memorable connections within the network.

Source: Small b blogging

When I visit my blog admin, I want the default screen to be my writing, without numbers. Focus reflection on the thoughts and ideas themselves rather than their numerical impressions as mass content.

Small b blogging is learning to write and think with the network. Small b blogging is writing content designed for small deliberate audiences and showing it to them. Small b blogging is deliberately chasing interesting ideas over pageviews and scale. An attempt at genuine connection vs the gloss and polish and mass market of most “content marketing”.

And remember that you are your own audience! Small b blogging is writing things that you link back to and reference time and time again. Ideas that can evolve and grow as your thinking and audience grows.

As Venkatesh says in the calculus of grit – release work often, reference your own thinking & rework the same ideas again and again. That’s the small b blogging model.

Source: Small b blogging

For the vast majority of us practicing educator types, blogging and participating in social spaces is about reflection, plain and simple.  Every time that you sit down behind the keyboard for any reason — whether that’s to join in a Twitterchat, to read bits that appear in your social streams, or to create a new bit on your own blog, you are an active learner.

Articulation of ideas — whether it comes in the short form of a Tweet or the long form of a blog post — requires you to think carefully about what you THINK you know.  Finding the right words to express your core notions about teaching and learning forces you to wrestle with what you actually believe.

Every time we make the argument that audience matters, we forget that reflection matters more.  Our goal shouldn’t be to #becomepopular.  It should be to #becomebetter.  Blogging and sharing in social spaces can help us to do that whether anyone is listening or not.

Source: Audience Doesn’t Matter. | THE TEMPERED RADICAL

CC: @wordpressdotcom, where we’ve talked about changing the default screen from stats to the posts list for years. We find ourselves in an age of disinformation where fatigue with exponential growth and the stats driven disethics of tech and ed-tech is rapidly settling in; perhaps, the time is now.

Hyperlinks and Education in the Disinformation Age

One of the things I like best about my microblogging experiment is words linking to sources like in the “good ole days” of internet one and small b blogging.

I appreciate this piece on Education in the (Dis)Information Age for many reasons, but especially for its ode to hyperlinks. The hyperlink is a fundamental building block of the web. “Social-media platforms have worked hard to kill the hyperlink”, and it shows.

My posts on education, neurodiversity, the social model, and tech ethics are full of links. That’s what we should model to students. Link to your sources. Link to your biases and influences. Share research and process. Show your work. All of that can be done with a hyperlink. Hyperlinks add nuance during a disinformation age, a time when we should be “foregrounding complexity as the baseline“. They are a kindness to the reader and rabbit holes of learning and perspective for those who want to go deeper.

How does the ability to add hyperlinks to text enrich the meaning of what we write? How does restricting that ability (like social-media platforms do) restrict the thinking of writers?

Source: Tech, Agency, Voice (On Not Teaching) | Hybrid Pedagogy

Do the platforms and interfaces you use to share online support hyperlinks? Try one that does. Do some small b blogging.

What’s going on here? I call it small b blogging. It’s a virtuous cycle of making interesting connections while also being a way to clarify and strengthen my own ideas. I’m not reaching a big audience by any measure but the direct impact and benefit is material.

Small b blogging is learning to write and think with the network. Small b blogging is writing content designed for small deliberate audiences and showing it to them. Small b blogging is deliberately chasing interesting ideas over pageviews and scale. An attempt at genuine connection vs the gloss and polish and mass market of most “content marketing”.

Think clearly about the many disparate networks you’re part of and think about the ideas you might want to offer those networks that you don’t want to get lost in the feed. Ideas you might want to return to. Think about how writing with and for the network might enable you to start blogging.

Come join the network. Bring a blog.

Source: Small b blogging

struggle with the conflict between writing something new and building on existing ideas but shouldn’t; a blog is just as much a process, an evolution of thought, as an act of creation.

Source: Required – Colin Walker

Build a digital pedagogy around collaboration, blogging, and hyperlinking with indie ed-tech and backchannels. Begin the practice. Command+k on MacOS and iOS and Control+k on Windows brings up a link dialog in many editing apps and publishing interfaces, including web-based ones like WordPress.

“In fact, I’d argue that the hyperlink is our most potent weapon in the fight against disinformation.”

The oldest and simplest of internet technologies, the hyperlink and the “new” kind of text it affords — hypertext — is the foundational language of the internet, HyperText Markup Language (HTML). Hypertext connects all the disparate pieces of the web together. And it’s Sci-Fi name isn’t an accident. It’s hyperdrive for the internet, bending information space so that any user can travel galaxy-scale information distances with a small movement of a finger. The hyperlink still remains one of the most powerful elements of the web. In fact, I’d argue that the hyperlink is our most potent weapon in the fight against disinformation.

With experience in evaluating and distinguishing various kinds of sources, the critically minded student can parse these links and filter bias to pull nuanced meaning from these various texts. More importantly in our current information landscape, the student/professor/researcher-as-public-scholar/educated-graduate-as-mindful-citizen can curate the best primary and secondary sources as links, and use the opportunity not simply to prove their credentials and bolster their argument, but to educate the public, bringing more light than heat to whatever issue they are unpacking.

First, academic work — both for students and faculty — still tends to be centered around traditional, pre-web conventions of writing. The printed book/article/essay, with footnotes and a bibliography, does not speak the language of the web, and footnotes/endnotes on a website do not encourage an audience to engage with more material more deeply. Putting an academic paper on the web is nothing like writing for the web. Until more faculty help their students learn to do the latter (and until faculty promotion and retention policies encourage faculty themselves to be fluent in writing for a public audience on the web), we’ll continue to raise up future generations of graduates (including the next generation of professors) who aren’t ready for their role in the fight against disinformation.

Second, social-media platforms have worked hard to kill the hyperlink.

As propagandists and perpetrators of (dis)information operations find those social-media limitations amenable to their aims, we need to resist. And we resist not only with better information, and better interpretation, but in recovering the language of the internet — the language of (digital) scholarship.

It’s time we brought back the hyperlink and learned how to really use it. It’s time we used information abundance to our advantage. And it’s time we disentangled our communications from platforms tuned for the spread of disinformation. The health of our democracies just might depend on it.

Source: Education in the (Dis)Information Age – Hybrid Pedagogy

Often when I say that I think that the “Domain of One’s Own” initiative is one of the most important education technologies, I always hear pushback from the Twitter riffraff. “What’s so special about a website?” folks will sneer.

Well, quite a lot, I’d contend. The Web itself is pretty special – Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of a global hyperlinked information system. A system that was – ideally at least – openly available and accessible to everyone, designed for the purpose of sharing information and collaborating on knowledge-building endeavors. That purpose was not, at the outset, commercial. The technologies were not, at the outset, proprietary.

I’m pretty resistant to framing “domains” as simply a matter of “skills.” Because I think its potential is far more radical than that. This isn’t about making sure literature students “learn to code” or history students “learn to code” or medical faculty “learn to code” or chemistry faculty “learn to code.”

Rather it’s about recognizing that the World Wide Web is site for scholarly activity. It’s about recognizing that students are scholars.

And that’s the Web. That’s your domain. You cultivate ideas there – quite carefully, no doubt, because others might pop by for a think. But also because it’s your space for a think.

Source: Why ‘A Domain of One’s Own’ Matters (For the Future of Knowledge)

As a Twitter thread: