Philosophy Department to Host International Conference on Misinformation

"Social Minds in Digital Spaces" Flyer
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"Social Minds in Digital Spaces" Flyer

Why do so many otherwise intelligent people eagerly consume conspiracy theories, "fake news" and other misinformation online? What facts about human nature and our information systems explain our vulnerability to this kind of manipulation? These are the types of questions that will be addressed by an international panel assembled by the Philosophy Department for a two-day conference on "Social Minds in Digital Spaces." All talks are open to the public, beginning at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 7, in Giffels Auditorium (Old Main).

The conference is funded by a Chancellor's Grant for the Humanities. Principal investigator Eric Funkhouser, professor and chair of the Philosophy Department, led a team of philosophers who secured $45,000 worth of funding for a broader project on "Reasoning in the Digital Age." Together with co-investigator David Barrett, they have created a new data ethics curriculum for the data science major. A series of articles on the conference theme will be published in a special issue of the journal Philosophical Topics. Funkhouser and Barrett are also taking this opportunity to further develop and apply their own research on self-deception, social functions of belief and algorithmic manipulation.

"We want to show the university community that philosophy has a lot to offer when it comes to practical, not only theoretical, problems," Funkhouser said. "Our presenters use a variety of tools - including computer simulations, social psychology and conceptual analysis - to better diagnose and treat the epidemic of misinformation and dangerous belief." He also stated that recent challenges to our democratic practices, as well as widespread skepticism about science, highlight the important role that the humanities play in promoting human flourishing. "This conference should be of interest to anyone concerned about truth in the digital age."

Barrett is co-organizing the conference. Barrett said that the talks on Friday afternoon should be especially appealing for those who lack a strong background in philosophy. Dan Williams (Cambridge) will be speaking on "Identity-Defining Beliefs on Social Media," and Cailin O'Connor (UC-Irvine) will present on "Media Biases and the Public Understanding of Science."

The slate of distinguished speakers will be coming from Oxford University and Cambridge University in the UK; Baruch College, Union College, Toronto; and UC-Irvine. While the talks will be academic in nature, they also should be accessible to a broader audience. There will be two talks on Friday afternoon, from 3:30 - 6:30 p.m. in Giffels Auditorium. The conference then resumes Saturday at 9 a.m. in the same location. All are welcome to attend (students and faculty especially), and "drop-ins" for individual talks are encouraged.




Eric Funkhouser, professor

Andra Parrish Liwag, director of communications
Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences


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