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Michael Shermer engages leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time. Watch or listen here or on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, and TuneIn.

EPISODE # 373

Lee McIntyre — Disinformation: How to Fight for Truth and Protect Democracy

On Disinformation: How to Fight for Truth and Protect Democracy (book cover)

Lee McIntyre is Research Fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University. Formerly Executive Director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University, he has taught philosophy at Colgate University, Boston University, Simmons University, Tufts Experimental College, and Harvard Extension School. He is the author of Dark Ages, Post-Truth, The Scientific Attitude, and How to Talk to a Science Denier. His new book is On Disinformation: How to Fight for Truth and Protect Democracy.

Shermer and McIntyre discuss:

  • default to truth theory
  • RFK Jr.
  • Did reason evolve for veridical perception or group identity?
  • How do we know what is true and what to believe?
  • What is disinformation?
  • Trump and his lies
  • Is Trump an existential threat to our democracy?
  • worst case scenarios if Trump wins in 2024
  • What happened to conservatives and the Republican Party in the Trump era?
  • Do people vote their party or their values?
  • Left lies: trans issues, race issues, GMOs, nuclear power, climate doomsdayism
  • facts and values, science and morality
  • What went wrong during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • lies and disinformation about masks and vaccines
  • social media companies responsibility for disinformation
  • what we should do personally and politically about disinformation.

About the Book

The effort to destroy facts and make America ungovernable didn’t come out of nowhere. It is the culmination of seventy years of strategic denialism. In On Disinformation, Lee McIntyre shows how the war on facts began, and how ordinary citizens can fight back against the scourge of disinformation that is now threatening the very fabric of our society. Drawing on his twenty years of experience as a scholar of science denial, McIntyre explains how autocrats wield disinformation to manipulatea populace and deny obvious realities, why the best way to combat disinformation is to disrupt its spread, and most importantly, how we can win the war on truth.

McIntyre takes readers through the history of strategic denialism to show how we arrived at this precarious political moment and identifies the creators, amplifiers, and believers of disinformation. Along the way, he also demonstrates how today’s “reality denial” follows the same flawed blueprint of the “five steps of science denial” used by climate deniers and anti-vaxxers; shows how Trump has emulated disinformation tactics created by Russian and Soviet intelligence dating back to the 1920s; provides interviews with leading experts on information warfare, counterterrorism, and political extremism; and spells out the need for algorithmic transparency from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. On Disinformation lays out ten everyday practical steps that we can take as ordinary citizens—from resisting polarization to pressuring our Congresspeople to regulate social media—as well as the important steps our government (if we elect the right leaders) must take.

Compact, easy-to-read (and then pass on to a friend), and never more urgent, On Disinformation does nothing less than empower us with the tools and knowledge needed to save our republic from autocracy before it is too late.

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This episode was released on September 12, 2023.

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