I have been involved, over the weekend, in a small twitter debate on the old question of whether anthropology should use qualitative or quantitative methodologies. The debate was not particularly interesting by itself (I had many, probably too many, similar conversations starting when I was an undergraduate student) and the readers of this blog know, or suspect, my position, so I am not dwelling on it. There is, however, a marginal aspect that made me think a bit: I have the feeling that, when it is all said and done, the negative attitudes toward quantifications are linked to the idea that quantifying human culture is politically “neoliberal”, if not altogether “right-wing”.Continue reading “Is cultural evolution “neoliberal”?”
Online misinformation, fake news, false news, hoaxes, you name it, has been blamed for almost everything bad happening in the last years, from the success of Trump to Brexit, from the election of Bolsonaro to the (relative) spread of the anti-vax movement. The scientific consensus on the prominence and on the effect of online misinformation, however, is, at best, mixed.Continue reading “Morgue employee cremated by mistake while taking a nap”
There is a joke among pilots—of course, I never heard any pilot actually saying the joke, but I found it online in plenty of commentaries about automation—according to which the best aeroplane crew is composed by a computer, a pilot, and a dog. The computer flies the plane. The pilot feeds the dog. The dog’s task is to bite the pilot whenever they try to interfere with the computer’s work. In other words: let the machine do the job for you.
Next month, I will give two talks – or two versions of the same talk – on “Cognitive attraction and online misinformation”. One will be in Den Bosch at the Jheronimus Academy of Data Science (where I hope to convince data scientists that cultural evolution and cognitive anthropology can be useful to understand online diffusion dynamics) and one, shortly after, at a Conference on Cultural Evolution organised by The Cognition, Behavior & Evolution Network at the University of Antwerp (where I will do the opposite, hoping to convince cultural evolutionists that studying online diffusion dynamics can be useful for us).
The phenomenon of online diffusion of misattributed quotes is so widespread that got its own dedicated meme. You may have seen a picture of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, that warns: ‘Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet just because there’s a picture with a quote next to it’. Lincoln, apparently nicknamed ‘Honest Abe’ when young, was assassinated in 1865, which makes it unlikely he had opinions about the Internet, and he is one of the historical celebrities most quoted (often incorrectly) on the web. Lincoln shares this questionable honour with the likes of Mark Twain and Albert Einstein. ‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result’ is one of the most famous quotes of Albert Einstein. Except that is not: the earliest known exact match of the quote appears in a Narcotics Anonymous information pamphlet in 1981, some 25 years after Einstein’s death.