[ExI] Top 10 Stories Under-Reported by the Mainstream Media

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Fri Oct 19 18:06:14 UTC 2012

On 19/10/2012 07:16, Ben Zaiboc wrote:
> BillK<pharos at gmail.com>  reported:
>> See:
>> <http://www.boulderweekly.com/article-9940-project-censored.html>

The problem is not that these are censored: anybody who reads widely 
will surely know about them (I think I recognized the majority straight 
away). Yes, most people will likely miss them. But that is not the same 
thing as censorship, the active and deliberate silencing of information.

The big problem is the passive and pervasive filtering going on. 
Broadcast-type media (newspapers, radio, TV, major blogs) have limited 
bandwidth, so they focus on what they think are important or what their 
customers will want. That removes a lot of information. The same 
filtering happens inside their organisation when deciding what to air, 
what to investigate or what to pay attention to. And consumers do the 
same: they filter out stuff that is uninteresting, depressing, against 
their views or they don't think they need. Narrowcast media like blogs 
may focus on very different things, but again their information will be 
taken up only if there are enough interested readers.

This produces very powerful biasing effects. Consider the over-reporting 
of certain kinds of scientific findings like "X is bad for you". Since 
threats are salient they will get reported more, even if they are due to 
p=0.05 errors. This happens in multiplicative stages: the researchers 
will likely push the finding more to the university press department, 
which will produce press releases more likely to be noticed by media, 
who are more likely to run the story, and the readers are more likely to 
read it. Result: every stage amplifies the bias, and the public can be 
consistently misinformed even though nobody tried to do it deliberately.

Since the number of stages of media transmission is increasing and 
filtering is becoming ever easier (and necessary, because of the vast 
amount of media), this is deeply worrysome and quite likely a danger for 
the the epistemic future of our civilisation. But it is not censorship.

Anders Sandberg,
Future of Humanity Institute
Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University

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