Post-resničnostna družba: Nevarnosti nezaupanja statistiki in populističnega manipuliranja

Odličen članek Williama Daviesa v The Guardianu o tem, kako zadnja faza liberalizma zaradi masovnega dostopa do interneta in socialnih omrežij povzroča nezaupanje v uradne podatke in strokovnjake in s kakšno lahkoto lahko spretni “analitiki” v službi piarovske politične mašinerije zmanipulirajo maso podatkov, ki jih zbirajo zasebne družbe. Voditelji kampanj za Brexit in Trumpa so prav na tej osnovi s tako lahkoto zajeli prevladujoči sentiment med ljudmi in ga še podžgali s hujskaškim nagovarjanjem. Če je moral Hitler na ulico in zbrati mase, da zmanipulira njihove antisemitske sentimente in frustracije zaradi gospodarske depresije v nacistično militantno ideološko fronto, je za Trumpa dovolj, da najame “analitsko službo” tipa Cambridge Analytica, ki na osnovi Facebook in drugih podatkov analizira psihološke profile in sentimente ciljnih skupin, in nato na tej osnovi segmentira in ciljno nagovarja identificirane sentimente segmentiranih skupin ter jih podžiga na istem mediju s “fake news”.

Potrebna bo resna regulacija.

In theory, statistics should help settle arguments. They ought to provide stable reference points that everyone – no matter what their politics – can agree on. Yet in recent years, divergent levels of trust in statistics has become one of the key schisms that have opened up in western liberal democracies. Shortly before the November presidential election, a study in the US discovered that 68% of Trump supporters distrusted the economic data published by the federal government. In the UK, a research project by Cambridge University and YouGov looking at conspiracy theories discovered that 55% of the population believes that the government “is hiding the truth about the number of immigrants living here”.

Rather than diffusing controversy and polarisation, it seems as if statistics are actually stoking them. Antipathy to statistics has become one of the hallmarks of the populist right, with statisticians and economists chief among the various “experts” that were ostensibly rejected by voters in 2016. Not only are statistics viewed by many as untrustworthy, there appears to be something almost insulting or arrogant about them. Reducing social and economic issues to numerical aggregates and averages seems to violate some people’s sense of political decency.

The declining authority of statistics – and the experts who analyse them – is at the heart of the crisis that has become known as “post-truth” politics. And in this uncertain new world, attitudes towards quantitative expertise have become increasingly divided. From one perspective, grounding politics in statistics is elitist, undemocratic and oblivious to people’s emotional investments in their community and nation. It is just one more way that privileged people in London, Washington DC or Brussels seek to impose their worldview on everybody else. From the opposite perspective, statistics are quite the opposite of elitist. They enable journalists, citizens and politicians to discuss society as a whole, not on the basis of anecdote, sentiment or prejudice, but in ways that can be validated. The alternative to quantitative expertise is less likely to be democracy than an unleashing of tabloid editors and demagogues to provide their own “truth” of what is going on across society.

Is there a way out of this polarisation? Must we simply choose between a politics of facts and one of emotions, or is there another way of looking at this situation? One way is to view statistics through the lens of their history. We need to try and see them for what they are: neither unquestionable truths nor elite conspiracies, but rather as tools designed to simplify the job of government, for better or worse. Viewed historically, we can see what a crucial role statistics have played in our understanding of nation states and their progress. This raises the alarming question of how – if at all – we will continue to have common ideas of society and collective progress, should statistics fall by the wayside.

What is most politically significant about this shift from a logic of statistics to one of data is how comfortably it sits with the rise of populism. Populist leaders can heap scorn upon traditional experts, such as economists and pollsters, while trusting in a different form of numerical analysis altogether. Such politicians rely on a new, less visible elite, who seek out patterns from vast data banks, but rarely make any public pronouncements, let alone publish any evidence. These data analysts are often physicists or mathematicians, whose skills are not developed for the study of society at all. This, for example, is the worldview propagated by Dominic Cummings, former adviser to Michael Gove and campaign director of Vote Leave. “Physics, mathematics and computer science are domains in which there are real experts, unlike macro-economic forecasting,” Cummings has argued.

Figures close to Donald Trump, such as his chief strategist Steve Bannon and the Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, are closely acquainted with cutting-edge data analytics techniques, via companies such as Cambridge Analytica, on whose board Bannon sits. During the presidential election campaign, Cambridge Analytica drew on various data sources to develop psychological profiles of millions of Americans, which it then used to help Trump target voters with tailored messaging.

This ability to develop and refine psychological insights across large populations is one of the most innovative and controversial features of the new data analysis. As techniques of “sentiment analysis”, which detect the mood of large numbers of people by tracking indicators such as word usage on social media, become incorporated into political campaigns, the emotional allure of figures such as Trump will become amenable to scientific scrutiny. In a world where the political feelings of the general public are becoming this traceable, who needs pollsters?

Vir: William Davies, The Guardian

2 responses

  1. Kaže, da je za post-resničnostni učinek treba imeti vrhunsko statistiko in strokovnjake za njeno uporabo. Ter seveda tudi vpogled v družbeno resničnost.

    Asimetrija vpogledov v realnost med vladarji in (nad)vladanimi je zgleda, da res vse večja. Hlapci seveda verjamejo v pristnost in neposrednost populistov, v resnici pa slednji uporabljajo nove, znanstvene prijeme statistične znanosti in pa stare prijeme demagogije, ter spodbujanja ljudske primitivnosti. Zmagovalna kombinacija staro-novega!

  2. Kaj je že rekel vrhunski lisjak Vinston Churchill? “Laž, večja laž, statistika”! Statistika je zelo puporabno propagandno oradje. Zelo lahko se jo da manipulirati, hkrati pa daje vtis objektivnosti.

    Dejstvo je, da države lažejo. Precej pogosto tudi s pomočjo statistike. Samo poglejte kolikokrat se je spremenila ameriška definicija inflacije ali zaposlenosti v zadnjih 40-tih letih. Ali pa najnovejši škandal
    z defaulti študentskih dolgov v ZDA. Ali pa poglejte bliže: V Slovenijo. Kako se premakne del državne porabe iz decembra v januar etc..To je že skoraj trradicija.

    Preverjanje kvalitete podatkov je bistven del kvalitete vsake analize.

    Zasedanje oblasti je profesionalen posel. Statistika je del te profesionalnosti. Ni to največji problem.

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