University Press Week 2023: Speaking UP against disinformation

Joining the University Press community in speaking UP for UP Week

University Press Week—an annual celebration of university presses, our culture, and the impact we have on scholarship and society at large—kicks off this week. This year the theme is Speak UP, highlighting university press’s unique ability to give voice to the scholarship and ideas that shape conversations around the world.

With misinformation (and its nefarious cousin, disinformation) on the rise, that distinctly UP mission is increasingly at risk. The MIT Press is proud to fight against the growth of both misinformation and disinformation by publishing rigorous, high-quality scholarship. To “speak UP” this University Press Week, we’ve gathered some of our best recent books that work to dismantle falsehoods and uphold truth in scholarship. Read on to explore our collection, and sign up for our newsletter to learn more about the Press.

On Disinformation

On Disinformation: How to Fight for Truth and Protect Democracy by Lee McIntyre

The effort to destroy facts and make America ungovernable didn’t come out of nowhere. It is the culmination of seventy years of strategic denialism. In On Disinformation, Lee McIntyre shows how the war on facts began, and how ordinary citizens can fight back against the scourge of disinformation that is now threatening the very fabric of our society. Drawing on his twenty years of experience as a scholar of science denial, McIntyre explains how autocrats wield disinformation to manipulate a populace and deny obvious realities, why the best way to combat disinformation is to disrupt its spread, and most importantly, how we can win the war on truth.

“This brief but impactful book offers trenchant commentary on the current war on truth and workable solutions to protect democracy in an increasingly chaotic world…thoughtful and illuminating.” —Kirkus Reviews

The Myth That Made Us: How False Beliefs about Racism and Meritocracy Broke Our Economy (and How to Fix It) by Jeff Fuhrer 

The Myth That Made Us exposes how false narratives—of a supposedly post-racist nation, of the self-made man, of the primacy of profit- and shareholder value-maximizing for businesses, and of minimal government interference—have been used to excuse gross inequities and to shape and sustain the US economic system that delivers them. Jeff Fuhrer argues that systemic racism continues to produce vastly disparate outcomes and that our brand of capitalism favors doing little to reduce disparities. Evidence from other developed capitalist economies shows it doesn’t have to be that way. We broke this (mean-spirited) economy. We can fix it.

“Readers will be outraged by this scathing indictment of America’s failure to live up to its meritocratic ideals.” —Publishers Weekly

Fake News: Understanding Media and Misinformation in the Digital Age edited by Melissa Zimdars and Kembrew McLeod

What is fake news? Is it an item on Breitbart, an article in The Onion, an outright falsehood disseminated via Russian bot, or a catchphrase used by a politician to discredit a story he doesn’t like? This book examines the real fake news: the constant flow of purposefully crafted, sensational, emotionally charged, misleading or totally fabricated information that mimics the form of mainstream news. Rather than viewing fake news through a single lens, the book maps the various kinds of misinformation through several different disciplinary perspectives, taking into account the overlapping contexts of politics, technology, and journalism.

“A must-read for anyone interested in confronting the challenges of the contemporary information environment.” —Lauren Feldman, Rutgers University

You Are Here: A Field Guide for Navigating Polarized Speech, Conspiracy Theories, and Our Polluted Media Landscape by Whitney Phillips and Ryan M. Milner

Our media environment is in crisis. Polarization is rampant. Polluted information floods social media. Even our best efforts to help clean up can backfire, sending toxins roaring across the landscape. In You Are Here, Whitney Phillips and Ryan Milner offer strategies for navigating increasingly treacherous information flows. Using ecological metaphors, they emphasize how our individual me is entwined within a much larger we, and how everyone fits within an ever-shifting network map.

“An invaluable guide to our problems around news, truth and fact.” —New Scientist

Post-Truth by Lee McIntyre

Are we living in a post-truth world, where “alternative facts” replace actual facts and feelings have more weight than evidence? How did we get here? In this volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, Lee McIntyre traces the development of the post-truth phenomenon from science denial through the rise of “fake news,” from our psychological blind spots to the public’s retreat into “information silos.” McIntyre argues that we can fight post-truth, and that the first step in fighting post-truth is to understand it.

“McIntyre’s book is perhaps the most thoughtful of the post-truth set….[He] argues persuasively that our methods of ascertaining truth—not just the facts themselves—are under attack, and that this assault is especially dangerous.” —Carlos Lozada, Washington Post

There Are No Facts: Attentive Algorithms, Extractive Data Practices, and the Quantification of Everyday Life by Mark Shepard

With the emergence of a post-truth world, we have witnessed the dissolution of the common ground on which truth claims were negotiated, individual agency enacted, and public spheres shaped. What happens when, as Nietzsche claimed, there are no facts, but only interpretations? In this book, Mark Shepard examines the entanglements of people and data, code and space, knowledge and power that have produced an uncommon ground—a disaggregated public sphere where the extraction of behavioral data and their subsequent processing and sale have led to the emergence of micropublics of ever-finer granularity.

“The compelling episodes and examples in There Are No Facts draw the contours of the post-truth landscape. Now is the time for Mark Shepard’s captivating book!” —Molly Wright Steenson, Carnegie Mellon University; author of Architectural Intelligence

Extremism by J. M. Berger

A rising tide of extremist movements threaten to destabilize civil societies around the globe. It has never been more important to understand extremism, yet the dictionary definition—a logical starting point in a search for understanding—tells us only that extremism is “the quality or state of being extreme.” In this volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, J. M. Berger offers a nuanced introduction to extremist movements, explaining what extremism is, how extremist ideologies are constructed, and why extremism can escalate into violence. Berger shows that although the ideological content of extremist movements varies widely, there are common structural elements.

Connected in Isolation: Digital Privilege in Unsettled Times by Eszter Hargittai

The vast majority of people in wealthy, highly connected, or digitally privileged societies may have crossed the digital divide, but being online does not mean that everyone is equally connected—and digital inequality reflects experience both online and off. In Connected in Isolation Eszter Hargittai looks at how this digital disparity played out during the unprecedented isolation imposed in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has permanently shifted how reliant we are upon online information, and the implications of Hargittai’s groundbreaking comparative research go far beyond the pandemic. Connected in Isolation informs and expands our understanding of digital media, including how they might mitigate or worsen existing social disparities; whom they empower or disenfranchise; and how we can identify and expand the skills people bring to them.

“Hargittai and her team show us the multiple facets of spreading digital inequality, spotlighting the need for an entire set of policies that build on broadband access to create genuine digital opportunity.” —Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America

Processing Inaccurate Information: Theoretical and Applied Perspectives from Cognitive Science and the Educational Sciences edited by David N. Rapp and Jason L.G. Braasch

Our lives revolve around the acquisition of information. Sometimes the information we acquire—from other people, from books, or from the media—is wrong. Studies show that people rely on such misinformation, sometimes even when they are aware that the information is inaccurate or invalid. And yet investigations of learning and knowledge acquisition largely ignore encounters with this sort of problematic material. This volume fills the gap, offering theoretical and empirical perspectives on the processing of misinformation and its consequences.

“Provides a valuable and up-to-date resources for anyone working in the area of misinformation and knowledge acquisition…. Timely and welcome.” —The Psychologist

How to Talk to a Science Denier: Conversations with Flat Earthers, Climate Deniers, and Others Who Defy Reason by Lee McIntyre

“Climate change is a hoax—and so is coronavirus.” “Vaccines are bad for you.” These days, many of our fellow citizens reject scientific expertise and prefer ideology to facts. They are not merely uninformed—they are misinformed. They cite cherry-picked evidence, rely on fake experts, and believe conspiracy theories. How can we convince such people otherwise? How can we get them to change their minds and accept the facts when they don’t believe in facts? In this book, Lee McIntyre shows that anyone can fight back against science deniers, and argues that it’s important to do so. Science denial can kill.

“Timely and founded in sound psychology, How to Talk to a Science Denier is vital reading for fraught times.” ForeWord Reviews, starred review

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