Monday, November 21, 2011

Fox News Makes You Dumber

Really, though.

12 comments:

Colin said...

This study -- touted by Think Progress and TPM -- is based on the logical fallacy that correlation means causation. As Brendan Nyhan pointed out on Twitter, C-SPAN watchers are less likely to speak Spanish than Univision's audience. Doesn't mean C-SPAN reduces Spanish literacy.

Ben said...

The proper comparison, as the study performs, is that of Fox News viewers to the general public. In your example, that would be C-SPAN viewers versus all viewers, not just Univision viewers. Viewed this way, we're left with two potential results: Fox News viewers are dumber to begin with or are made so by their viewership of Fox News. Given Fox's coverage and its tendency to conflate opinion with fact, it may well be that viewers know less about the topics discussed on Fox after viewing Fox than they did before hand.

Colin said...

No, in order to prove that FNC makes one dumber -- as you argue in your title -- one must first assess the knowledge of viewers before having watched FNC and then reassess afterwards. This study does not do that.

Ben said...

As I said, Colin, you're left with two potential results.

Ben said...

I am a bit surprised that you prefer the inference that Fox News viewers are dumber than the general population to begin with. I rather expect you to assume that all populations are normal distributions of intelligence or otherwise.

Colin said...
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Colin said...

Why do you think I prefer *any* inference? I have no dog in this fight -- I'd be surprised if my total FNC viewing this entire year has exceeded 20 minutes. I am simply taking issue with your narrative that FNC makes one dumber -- that has not been established. If you had merely said that FNC viewers were less informed than those who relied on other news sources you'd be absolutely correct. But your statement that FNC causes viewers to become dumber is unproven.

Ben said...

As I said, "I . . . expect you to assume that all populations are normal distributions of intelligence. . . ."

And, actually, had I said that "FNC viewers were less informed than those who relied on other news sources," I would be presuming that FNC viewers have a tabula rasa quality to them that is also an assumption. As with your critique of my statement, we would need to know something about what the viewers new before the viewing Fox News to arrive at this conclusion.

Colin said...

As I said, "I . . . expect you to assume that all populations are normal distributions of intelligence. . . ."

I don't see why we would make that assumption. It would not surprise me in the least if different news sources attracted viewer/readerships with had higher levels of intelligence than others. I'd be willing to wager a fair amount of money that the readership of the WSJ has a higher average IQ than that of the local newspaper.

Second, raw intelligence is not the issue, but rather knowledge.

As with your critique of my statement, we would need to know something about what the viewers new before the viewing Fox News to arrive at this conclusion.

No we wouldn't, as what they knew beforehand is irrelevant since the statement does not infer causation. All we have to do is simply looking at the results of the study to see that they are the least informed. We need to know their prior levels of knowledge to make the claim -- as you did -- that FNC made them dumber.

Ben said...

You are wrong. Your frame implies a causal link between channel selection and informative quality of that channel. Without knowing the baseline before hand, we cannot conclude one way or the other and we are still left with the two alternative I posed. At any rate, taking my assumption of a normal distribution of intelligence (or informed-ness), across cable news stations, you are left with the result of Fox News causing dumbness.

But none of this is here nor there. The point, of course, is that Fox is a terrible source of information and rife with distortions.

Colin said...

You are wrong. Your frame implies a causal link between channel selection and informative quality of that channel.

Eh, no it doesn't. Stating that viewers of a certain channel are less informed is a statement of fact provided there is data to back it up (as this study provides). There is absolutely no causal link. In fact, it is possible that the viewers were even less informed prior to watching the news source.

Stating that that viewers of a certain news source as less informed -- *and that news source is the reason for their ignorance* -- as you have done is the statement that cannot be proven without first assessing the viewer's knowledge prior to using the news source.

Without knowing the baseline before hand, we cannot conclude one way or the other and we are still left with the two alternative I posed.

Exactly, and since we lack such information, your statement that FNC makes people "dumber" (and actually, since we are talking about knowledge instead of intelligence, "less informed" would have been the more accurate phrase), is unproven.

Ben said...

hyperbole