Do conservative misinformation experts exist?

I just found out that there’s a peer-reviewed journal dedicated entirely to the topic of misinformation.

It was brought to my attention this week in a tweet by Bjorn Lomborg, who had evidently been browsing its pages.

Misinformation Review is the publication’s rather benign title. Launched in 2020, the open-access journal is run out of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School — Harvard University’s school of public policy and government. Wheels within wheels and all that.

The journal’s website boasts that “over 40 misinformation experts from over 20 different universities and institutes” serve on its Editorial Board, and that its pages are viewed hundreds of thousands of times annually.

What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty, according to Bjorn Lomborg.

Inherent bias

“Misinformation experts are perhaps not quite unbiased,” he wrote on X, summarising the contents of a research article profiled at Misinformation Review. Experts leaned strongly toward the left of the political spectrum.”

How far left? There was barely a conservative in sight. Check it out:

This fact was not advertised in the article. It was hidden in one short paragraph in the appendices, from which Lomborg had crafted his own homemade graph: “Experts leaned strongly toward the left of the political spectrum: very right-wing (0), fairly right-wing (0), slightly right-of-centre (7), centre (15), slightly left-of-centre (43), fairly left-wing (62), very left-wing (21).”

One of the headline findings of the paper was that almost all of these misinformation experts credited partisanship and confirmation bias as top reasons why people believed and shared misinformation. Irony much?

Granted, the “misinformation experts” in view were consulted specifically for this paper, and don’t necessarily represent the editorial views of Misinformation Review. But there were 150 of them — “150 experts on misinformation from across academia”.

So, where were all the conservative misinformation experts that the paper’s authors failed to survey? Perhaps they were out to lunch that day. Or maybe — here’s my theory — conservative misinformation experts are about as common as married bachelors, poor millionaires and honest thieves.

Skewing the narrative

It’s no secret that the vocabulary of misinformation, disinformation and malinformation invaded mainstream discourse with a vengeance shortly after Brexit and Donald Trump’s surprise 2016 election victory.

The internet’s fabled democratisation of information — buoyed by the rise of social media and the smartphone in the mid-to-late noughties — had been far more successful than ever anticipated. Brexit and Trump sounded the alarm: trust in Western institutions was in tatters. With the help of independent journalism, the masses had started forming their own views away from the ubiquitous narratives of the legacy press and the bureaucracy.

In short, the misinformation industrial complex was a belated reactionary movement of the elites aimed at suppressing populist common sense.

(If you really want your epistemic cage rattled, watch Tucker Carlson’s recent interview with former US State Department Head of Cyber Mike Benz. Benz argues the psychological toolkit of the industry was first crafted by US intelligence agencies to “democratically” overthrow foreign governments in Eastern Europe, before being redeployed against American citizens in more recent years).


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The rest is history — whether the lunacy of the Covid-19 era, Elon Musk’s middle-finger acquisition of Twitter/X, or the simultaneous attempt in almost every Western jurisdiction to introduce misinformation bills, misinformation czars or misinformation departments.


In a follow-up to his tweet, Bjorn Lomborg shared a link to an essay by philosopher Dan Williams, who takes apart the logic of the entire misinformation industrial complex in just two short paragraphs:

On the one hand, if researchers define the concept so that it only includes clear-cut falsehoods, misinformation appears to be relatively rare in the media ecosystem and largely symptomatic of other problems, at least in Western democracies.

On the other hand, if researchers define the concept to include subtler ways in which communication can be misleading even when it’s not demonstrably false, the concept becomes so expansive, amorphous, and value-laden that we shouldn’t trust misinformation experts to decide what counts as misinformation.

He then cites a humorous and illustrative instance of this: a 2018 Science article titled The spread of true and false news online, which purported to show that false rumours on Twitter “diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information”.

The article proved enormously influential and was hyped by an eager corporate media, and has been regularly cited by misinformation researchers as established fact.

The problem? “The article provides no justification for these claims!” Williams writes. It merely “attempts to make generalisations about the spread of true and false claims on Twitter by studying the spread of claims that are classified as true or false by six fact-checking organisations”.  Sampling bias and fact-checker fallibility be damned.

The “misinformation experts” can keep trying to censor me all they want, and shove their version of truth down my throat.

But as long as they remain some of the worst peddlers of misinformation, I’ll keep trusting my gut — and prefer the many independent journalists who have forsaken careers, wealth and prestige to get the truth out.

Kurt Mahlburg is a writer and author, and an emerging Australian voice on culture and the Christian faith. He has a passion for both the philosophical and the personal, drawing on his background as a graduate architect, a primary school teacher, a missionary, and a young adult pastor.

Image: Pexels


Showing 9 reactions

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  • David Page
    commented 2024-02-26 07:05:42 +1100
    Steven, you are fond of calling Steven by his last name, Meyer. It is not lost on me that there is a historical connection to this usage. I don’t think Steven would stoop to bringing this up, but Goering once said that is Germany was bombed, “You can call me Meyer”. Cynic that I am, I don’t believe this is an accidental usage. Any thoughts?
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-02-24 15:02:52 +1100
    Some advice:

    If someone describes himself as a [placeholder] fact checker where

    placeholder is adherent any ideology of belief system including but not restricted to atheist, capitalist, Christian, communist, conservative, leftist, liberal, Marxist, Muslim or Zoroastrian

    Don’t bother.
  • Andrew P Partington
    commented 2024-02-24 10:24:06 +1100 is my Substack site I am a conservative fact checker.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-02-24 10:17:00 +1100

    Precisely! Lying by omission is much more effective than telling outright untruths.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-02-24 10:13:45 +1100
    P Gr

    I am an evil, godless, far left, commie, Marxist, woke heathen intent on destroying western civilisation and enslaving all good Christians. When the Christian Revolution happens I shall be among the first to be burned at the stake or made to breathe nitrogen.

    With that out of the way…

    :Let’s talk about “think tanks.” There are genuine think tanks like Rand Corporation. But most think tanks are really rationalisation tanks. Corporates generally, or a specific corporation or group of corporations want to do something. Perhaps they have a PR problem. They will ask a rationalisation tank to which they donate to help out. This is often done by planting stories in the media.

    A classic case is Purdue Pharma when the extent of the opioid crisis was becoming apparent. American Enterprise Institute, a recipient of Purdue donations, planted a story in NY Times which remains a classic of disinformation. Unfortunately the actual article is behind a paywall but here’s an open source description:

    The owners of large corporations, which may include Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Disney etc, are the donors who make use of the corporate dezinformatsiya complex “think tanks”. They rarely target the general public directly. Rather their job is to build a pro-corporate consensus in Congress and the media. And, on occasion, to help out with public relations. The whole point of good PR – ie misinformation – is to be as invisible as possible.

    It is important to remember the sole purpose of a corporation is to enrich the stockholders and C-level executives. Nothing else matters. If presenting a “woke” facade generates profits the directors and CEO will employ an army of PR consultants – ie misinformation experts – to make a company appear woke.

    And mistakes are made. The manufacturers of a certain beer-like substance called “Bud Lite” made a catastrophic mistake. My guess is this was a fairly routine bit of marketing decided at a low level which backfired badly. The person who took the decision probably thought it was a harmless gesture to a specific demographic.

    Disney is anything but “woke.” It is all about money. They attracted the “pink dollar” by presenting their theme parks as gay friendly places to hold conventions and meetings.

    When dealing with large corporates extreme cynicism is the only sane attitude. Anything a corporate CEO or PR flack ( ie misinformation expert) says should be regarded as misleading unless independently corroborated. Any news from any for-profit media outlet – this includes Foxnews as much as NY Times and Joe Rogan as much as NewsmaxTV – should be regarded with scepticism.

    The noise to signal ratio is very high. And with the advent of large language models and deep fakes it’s only going to get worse.

    Anyone, and that includes you and me, can be fooled. In fact the people easiest to fool, are usually the people who are convinced they can’t be.

    Any thought that the directors/C-level executives, the news stars likes Carlson or Hannity, are fighting the good fight for “real Americans” is delusion. Carlson is no more a crusader for truth, justice and the American way than Robin Williams was really a serial killer in the movie Insomnia.

    A great example of Carlson’s dezinformatsiya was his comparison of food prices in Russia as compared to the United States. Yes, when rouble prices are translated into dollars it looks cheap. But Russians don’t earn dollars.

    In proportion to their incomes, Russians have to spend between two and three times as much on food as Americans. For most Americans, food is cheaper than it is for their Russian counterparts.
  • mrscracker
    It’s often the information you don’t share that’s critical.
  • P Gr
    commented 2024-02-23 23:39:03 +1100
    @Steven Meyer you wouldn’t happen to be a left-leaning misinformation expert yourself, would you?
    I am not sure about this you wrote “Let’s face it, when it comes to generating misinformation the big bucks are on the conservative – ie corporate – side. It attracts the top talent which explains why left (ie non-corporate) misinformation is so lame.”
    Do you have any evidence for this? It’s not obvious to me that “The American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute” etc are more relevant in terms of power, money and “corporateness” than Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, the old Twitter, Disney, and a big etc. I also don’t see how left wing misinformation is so lame. It’s cleverly woven into mainstream media, Hollywood, tech, pop…
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-02-23 16:17:54 +1100
    First let me answer the question Mahlburg poses in the title to this piece.

    “Conservative” misinformation experts definitely do exist. You can find them lucratively employed generating misinformation at so called “think tanks” such as The American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute and other branches of America’s corporate dezinformatsiya complex.

    Let’s face it, when it comes to generating misinformation the big bucks are on the conservative – ie corporate – side. It attracts the top talent which explains why left (ie non-corporate) misinformation is so lame.

    On the admittedly specious reasoning that Mahlburg’s disapprobation is equivalent to a recommendation I investigated Misinformation Review. It’s not especially impressive but if you want to see for yourself here’s a link:

    If you want to learn about misinformation any reasonable course on public relation will get you started.

    Rule one:

    Always dilutes your misinformation with as much truth as possible the better to hide the taste.

    What about misinformation in the Catholic Church?

    I thought readers might find Father Casey interesting:
  • Kurt Mahlburg
    published this page in The Latest 2024-02-22 20:15:09 +1100