Weekly Top 5 Papers – August 28th 2017

1. A Brief Introduction to the Basics of Game Theory by Matthew O. Jackson (Stanford University – Department of Economics)

2. Who Falls for Fake News? The Roles of Analytic Thinking, Motivated Reasoning, Political Ideology, and Bullshit Receptivity by Gordon Pennycook (Yale University) and David Rand (Yale University)

Like many others, we were both fascinated and disturbed by the phenomenon of fake news (entirely fabricated stories presented in the format of news articles) that gained prominence during the 2016 US Presidential Election. In response, we have initiated a research program aimed at understanding what affects peoples’ belief in fake news, and what can be done to improve the ability to differentiate fake from real (what we dub “Media truth discernment”). In a previous paper posted on SSRN, Prior Exposure Increases Perceived Accuracy of Fake News, we showed that just reading a fake news headline made people subsequently more likely to believe it – even if the headline was flagged as “Disputed by 3rd party fact-checkers,” ran counter to the subject’s political orientation, or was not even explicitly remembered by the subject.

In the current paper, Who Falls for Fake News? The Roles of Analytic Thinking, Motivated Reasoning, Political Ideology, and Bullshit Receptivity, we examined the cognitive profile of people who are better versus worse at media truth discernment. A common, and very pessimistic, argument is that people believe politicized fake news because they want to – that is, people use processes such as rationalization to convince themselves of the truth of stories which fit their political worldview (often called “motivated reasoning” or “cultural cognition”). Surprisingly, however, our results do not support this account, and are in a sense more optimistic – we found that people who engaged in more analytic thinking (as measured by the Cognitive Reflection Test, a set of math problems with intuitively compelling but incorrect answers) were better at discerning fake from real, even for headlines that aligned with their political ideology. If anything, analytic thinkers were even better at discounting fake news that they were politically aligned with. That is not to say, however, that political ideology played no role: people were on average more likely to believe politically aligned fake news headlines. Furthermore, Trump supporters were overall worse at differentiating fake from real (even for politically neutral headlines) – a result that was, at least in part, accounted for by Trump supporters being less likely to engage in analytic thinking. We also found that people who tended to think that randomly generated sentences are profound (i.e. that score highly on the “pseudo-profound bullshit receptivity” scale of Pennycook et al., 2015) were also more likely to believe fake news – which, again, was in part accounted for by less analytic thinking. Finally, we assessed the impact of showing versus hiding the website that each headlines came from. To our surprise, we found no effect on judgments of accuracy. We hope that the results of these studies, as well as those of other studies we are currently conducting, will help guide policy makers in their efforts to reduce belief in blatantly false information. – David G. Rand

3. Intellectual Property in the New Technological Age: 2017 – Chapters 1 and 2 by Peter Menell (University of California, Berkeley – School of Law) and Mark Lemley (Stanford Law School) and Robert Merges (University of California, Berkeley – School of Law)

4. The Impact of E-Visits on Visit Frequencies and Patient Health: Evidence from Primary Care by Hessam Bavafa (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Lorin Hitt (University of Pennsylvania – Operations & Information Management Department) and Christian Terwiesch (University of Pennsylvania – Operations & Information Management Department)

5. How to Read a Legal Opinion: A Guide for New Law Students by Orin Kerr (The George Washington University Law School)

Like a lot of papers with tons of downloads, this paper has an audience outside academic specialists. It’s a paper for new law students on how to prepare to start law school.  With around 40,000 new law students entering law schools every fall, it draws a lot of downloads every August.  I’ve been told that a lot of law schools assign it as part of the first week of reading, too.  Either way, it is by far my most read article. Go figure. – Orin Kerr