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This chart will tell you how biased your favorite news source is
Ad Fontes Media wants to educate readers on where to find reliable sources of news and lessen the heat from the political flame wars.
- Polarized, unreliable news can be dangerous during turbulent times, such as the coronavirus pandemic.
- The Ad Fontes' Media Bias Chart maps out the biases and reliability of legacy and alternative news organizations.
- Political bias is one of many we must be wary of when judging the quality of the news we consume.
The New York Times was a failing newspaper before changing its business model to muckraking on Trump. Fox News had to drop its "Fair and Balanced" motto because that's false advertising. CNN should be renamed the "Know-Nothing Network." Info Wars' listeners are freakin' certifiable.
If you've spent any time on social media, or in the inescapable presence of extended family, you've heard someone slagging on the news sources they disagree with. Their main grievance is, of course, how biased and unfair those news sources are when compared to their reliable, fact-based preferences.
While a mere annoyance in that moment, such mindsets have become a widespread social ill. We as a society require a consensus of truth to make sound social decisions, and the news is one of the gatekeepers to the facts required to build those truths.
When news content begins to prioritize opinions and tribalistic tendencies over journalistic integrity, it clouds the entire media landscape with suspicion, deepens political polarization, and allows readers to sidestep unwelcome evidence with alternative narratives.
Such a state is pernicious at the best of times, but in dire times, such as the coronavirus pandemic, the spread of unreliable information can be of fatal concern.
How do we reach a consensus on which sources prioritize facts and which are designed as filter bubbles of confirmation bias and self-righteousness?
Ad Fontes Media's answer: research, analysis, and one interactive chart.
Creating the Media Bias Chart
The extreme bias and partisanship of the 2016 election led Vanessa Otero to create the first Media Bias Chart.
In 2016, amid chants of "lock her up!" and reprimands of that "basket of deplorables," patent attorney Vanessa Otero decided there was a real problem with how we consume news.
"[W]e have a big problem in our news media landscape: too much junk news. Junk news is like junk food, and just like junk food has caused massive health epidemics in our country, junk news is causing a massive polarization epidemic," Otero writes.
Otero analyzed news sources for bias and reliability, and then charted her results. Her side project became the first version of the Media Bias Chart. In 2018, she founded Ad Fontes Media as a public benefit corporation—naming the company after the Latin phrase meaning, "back to the source." After a successful crowdfunding campaign, Otero gathered additional analysts to perform deeper dives into news content.
Today, her Media Bias Chart has reached version 5.1. Each score is now backed by an analysis of multiple articles, a weighted average of those raw article scores, and multiple analyst rankings from people across the political spectrum. (The Ad Fontes website hosts an in-depth look at its rubric and methodology here.)
"I want to make news consumers smarter and the news media itself better, and those things are both really lofty, but I think it's doable," Otero told Newsy during an interview. "There are folks who, if they had this information, would make better choices as consumers of media first and then citizens."
Triangulating the news landscape
Click on the image to zoom in and get a better view. The Media Bias Chart, version 5.1, charts reliability and bias in about 90 popular news sources.(Photo: Ad Fontes Media)
The chart splays a cavalcade of news media logos across its grid to form a giant triangle. At the top-middle stands the news sources that are balanced and highly reliable. As we slide down the left and right sides, we fall deeper into the realm of partisanship and mudslinging.
The chart's y-axis measures reliability on a scale of 0–64. According to the Ad Fontes website, a reliability score of 24 or higher is considered acceptable, while a score of 32 or higher represents good reliability.
The chart's x-axis measures from -42 to 42. Scores closer to zero equate to neutral, balanced views. The more a news organization shows a conservative bent, the more their score pushes right of zero, maxing out at 42. The more a news organization shows a progressive bent, the more their score pushes left of zero, maxing out at -42.
For those fuming that progressive news is measured by "negative" numbers while the right is seen as "positive," chill! That's just how x-axes work.
Who is the fairest (and most balanced) of them all?
John Daniszewski, vice president and editor at large for standards of the Associated Press, and Kirill Kleymenov interview Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2013.
According to the Media Bias Chart, the most balanced news sources are Associated Press and Reuters. The Associated Press earned a reliability score of 51.98 and a bias score of -1.06; Reuters earned a reliability score of 51.64 and a bias score of -0.95.
As the website notes, these scores don't mean that every article is a piece of investigative journalism. But on average, these two sources produce quality, fact-based journalism.
The least reliable sources of news are the National Enquirer and World Truth.TV, the latter of which proudly proclaims itself alternative news based on the "sacred knowledge." They sport a reliability score of 9.65 and 7.41 respectively, though neither is particularly biased.
The most biased conservative sources were found to be the Gateway Pundit and InfoWars, scoring 28.55 and 31.05 respectively. Conversely, the most biased progressive sources were the Palmer Report and Wonkette, scoring -29.37 and -31.15.
Here's a quick rundown of a few noteworthy news sources. Bias scores are on the left, reliability on the right:
- The New York Times – (-4.01, 47.5)
- The Wall Street Journal – (1.89, 48.33)
- The Washington Post – (-4.18, 43.73)
- CNN – (-5.69, 42.22)
- Fox News Channel – (24.56, 23.16)
- Vox – (-8.75, 41.97)
- NPR – (-2.73, 49.9)
- Mother Jones – (-13.92, 37.31)
- The Daily Wire – (16.35, 24.39)
You can check out more scores at the interactive Media Bias Chart here. Expect scores to shift in future versions as more content is analyzed and more analysts can weigh in.
Making better news choices
The Media Bias Chart provides an easy way to digest an otherwise complex media landscape. The website also rates weekly articles, so readers can examine how different news sources spin the major story of the day.
However, it is only one tool that looks toward a particular bias spectrum in our media. There are more. New York Times columnist David Leonhardt identifies six forms of media bias. In addition to the right and left political biases, he showcases the centrist bias (both sides must always be equal in blame regardless of the circumstances), the affluent bias (national journalist tend to be more affluent than the average), the newness bias (events that are new seem more important), and social biases (sexism, racism, ageism, and so on).
To detect bias and skewed information, the media watch group FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) recommends asking following questions of news content and the sources containing them:
- Who are the sources?
- Is there a lack of diversity?
- From whose point of view is the news reported?
- Are there double standards?
- Do stereotypes skew coverage?
- What are the unchallenged assumptions?
- Is the language loaded?
- Is there a lack of context?
- Do the headlines and stories match?
- Are stories on important issues featured prominently?
We can't afford to digest news with passive acceptance. Like Otero, we need to develop personal methodologies for analyzing a source's reliability and distrust for biases, especially those that make us feel that twinge of personal satisfaction.
- Is Western Media Biased Against China and Russia? - Big Think ›
- Trump claims Google is biased. Is it true? - Big Think ›
- The Psychology of Why the Right and the Left Believe in Media Bias ... ›
- Non-partisan brains differ from those of partisans - Big Think ›
A cave in France contains man’s earliest-known structures that had to be built by Neanderthals who were believed to be incapable of such things.
In a French cave deep underground, scientists have discovered what appear to be 176,000-year-old man-made structures. That's 150,000 years earlier than any that have been discovered anywhere before. And they could only have been built by Neanderthals, people who were never before considered capable of such a thing.
This is going to force a major shift in the way we see these early hominids. Researchers had thought that Neanderthals were profoundly primitive, and just barely human. This cave in France's Aveyron Valley changes all that: It's suddenly obvious that Neanderthals were not quite so unlike us.
According to The Atlantic, Bruniquel Cave was first explored in 1990 by Bruno Kowalsczewski, who was 15 at the time. He'd spent three years digging away at rubble covering a space through which his father felt air moving.
Some members of a local caving club managed to squeeze through the narrow, 30-meter long tunnel Kowalsczewski had dug to arrive in a passageway. They followed it past pools of water and old animal bones for over 330 meters before coming into a large chamber and a scene they had no reason to expect: Stalagmites that someone had broken into hundreds of small pieces, most of which were arranged into two rings—one roughly 6 meters across, and one 2 meters wide—with the remaining pieces stacked into one of four piles or leaning against the rings. There were also indications of fires and burnt bones.
Image source: Etienne FABRE - SSAC
A professional archeologist, Francois Rouzaud, determined with carbon dating that a burnt bear bone found in the chamber was 47,600 years old, which made the stalagmite structures older than any known cave painting. It also put the cave squarely within the age of the Neanderthals since they were the only humans in France that early. No one had suspected them of being capable of constructing complex forms or doing anything that far underground.
After Rouzard suddenly died in 1999, exploration at the cave stopped until life-long caver Sophie Verheyden, vacationing in the area, heard about it and decided to try and uranium-date the stalagmites inside.
The team she assembled eventually determined that the stalagmites had been broken up by people 176,000 years ago, way farther back even than Rouzard had supposed.
There weren't any signs that Neanderthals lived in the cave, so it's a mystery what they were up to down there. Verheyden thinks it's unlikely that a solitary artist created the tableaux, and so an organized group of skilled workers must've been involved. And “When you see such a structure so far into the cave, you think of something cultural or religious, but that's not proven," Verheyden told The Atlantic.
Whatever they built, the Bruniquel Cave reveals some big surprises about Neanderthals: They had fire, they built things, and likely used tools. Add this to recent discoveries that suggest they buried their dead, made art, and maybe even had language, and these mysterious proto-humans start looking a lot more familiar. A lot more like homo sapiens, and a lot more like distant cousins lost to history.
A recent study used fMRI to compare the brains of psychopathic criminals with a group of 100 well-functioning individuals, finding striking similarities.
- The study used psychological inventories to assess a group of violent criminals and healthy volunteers for psychopathy, and then examined how their brains responded to watching violent movie scenes.
- The fMRI results showed that the brains of healthy subjects who scored high in psychopathic traits reacted similarly as the psychopathic criminal group. Both of these groups also showed atrophy in brain regions involved in regulating emotion.
- The study adds complexity to common conceptions of what differentiates a psychopath from a "healthy" individual.
When considering what precisely makes someone a psychopath, the lines can be blurry.
Psychological research has shown that many people in society have some degree of malevolent personality traits, such as those described by the "dark triad": narcissism (entitled self-importance), Machiavellianism (strategic exploitation and deceit), and psychopathy (callousness and cynicism). But while people who score high in these traits are more likely to end up in prison, most of them are well functioning and don't engage in extreme antisocial behaviors.
Now, a new study published in Cerebral Cortex found that the brains of psychopathic criminals are structurally and functionally similar to many well-functioning, non-criminal individuals with psychopathic traits. The results suggest that psychopathy isn't a binary classification, but rather a "constellation" of personality traits that "vary in the non-incarcerated population with normal range of social functioning."
Assessing your inner psychopath
The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to compare the brains of violent psychopathic criminals to those of healthy volunteers. All participants were assessed for psychopathy through commonly used inventories: the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised and the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale.
Experimental design and sample stimuli. The subjects viewed a compilation of 137 movie clips with variable violent and nonviolent content.Nummenmaa et al.
Both groups watched a 26-minute-long medley of movie scenes that were selected to portray a "large variability of social and emotional content." Some scenes depicted intense violence. As participants watched the medley, fMRI recorded how various regions of their brains responded to the content.
The goal was to see whether the brains of psychopathic criminals looked and reacted similarly to the brains of healthy subjects who scored high in psychopathic traits. The results showed similar reactions: When both groups viewed violent scenes, the fMRI revealed strong reactions in the orbitofrontal cortex and anterior insula, brain regions associated with regulating emotion.
These similarities manifested as a positive association: The more psychopathic traits a healthy subject displayed, the more their brains responded like the criminal group. What's more, the fMRI revealed a similar association between psychopathic traits and brain structure, with those scoring high in psychopathy showing lower gray matter density in the orbitofrontal cortex and anterior insula.
There were some key differences between the groups, however. The researchers noted that the structural abnormalities in the healthy sample were mainly associated with primary psychopathic traits, which are: inclination to lie, lack of remorse, and callousness. Meanwhile, the functional responses of the healthy subjects were associated with secondary psychopathic traits: impulsivity, short temper, and low tolerance for frustration.
Overall, the study further illuminates some of the biological drivers of psychopathy, and it adds nuance to common conceptions of the differences between psychopathy and being "healthy."
Why do some psychopaths become criminals?
The million-dollar question remains unanswered: Why do some psychopaths end up in prison, while others (or, people who score high in psychopathic traits) lead well-functioning lives? The researchers couldn't give a definitive answer, but they did note that psychopathic criminals had lower connectivity within "key nodes of the social and emotional brain networks, including amygdala, insula, thalamus, and frontal pole."
"Thus, even though there are parallels in the regional responsiveness of the brain's affective circuit in the convicted psychopaths and well-functioning subjects with psychopathic traits, it is likely that the disrupted functional connectivity of this network is specific to criminal psychopathy."
Counterintuitively, directly combating misinformation online can spread it further. A different approach is needed.
- Like the coronavirus, engaging with misinformation can inadvertently cause it to spread.
- Social media has a business model based on getting users to spend increasing amounts of time on their platforms, which is why they are hesitant to remove engaging content.
- The best way to fight online misinformation is to drown it out with the truth.
A year ago, the Center for Countering Digital Hate warned of the parallel pandemics — the biological contagion of COVID-19 and the social contagion of misinformation, aiding the spread of the disease. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, anti-vaccine accounts have gained 10 million new social media followers, while we have witnessed arson attacks against 5G masts, hospital staff abused for treating COVID patients, and conspiracists addressing crowds of thousands.
Many have refused to follow guidance issued to control the spread of the virus, motivated by beliefs in falsehoods about its origins and effects. The reluctance we see in some to get the COVID vaccine is greater amongst those who rely on social media rather than traditional media for their information. In a pandemic, lies cost lives, and it has felt like a new conspiracy theory has sprung up online every day.
How we, as social media users, behave in response to misinformation can either enable or prevent it from being seen and believed by more people.
The rules are different online
Credit: Pool via Getty Images
If a colleague mentions in the office that Bill Gates planned the pandemic, or a friend at dinner tells the table that the COVID vaccine could make them infertile, the right thing to do is often to challenge their claims. We don't want anyone to be left believing these falsehoods.
But digital is different. The rules of physics online are not the same as they are in the offline world. We need new solutions for the problems we face online.
Now, imagine that in order to reply to your friend, you must first hand him a megaphone so that everyone within a five-block radius can hear what he has to say. It would do more damage than good, but this is essentially what we do when we engage with misinformation online.
Think about misinformation as being like the coronavirus — when we engage with it, we help to spread it to everyone else with whom we come into contact. If a public figure with a large following responds to a post containing misinformation, they ensure the post is seen by hundreds of thousands or even millions of people with one click. Social media algorithms also push content into more users' newsfeeds if it appears to be engaging, so lots of interactions from users with relatively small followings can still have unintended negative consequences.
The trend of people celebrating and posting photos of themselves or loved ones receiving the vaccine has been far more effective than any attempt to disprove a baseless claim about Bill Gates or 5G mobile technology.
Additionally, whereas we know our friend from the office or dinner, most of the misinformation we see online will come from strangers. They often will be from one of two groups — true believers, whose minds are made up, and professional propagandists, who profit from building large audiences online and selling them products (including false cures). Both of these groups use trolling tactics, that is, seeking to trigger people to respond in anger, thus helping them reach new audiences and thereby gaming the algorithm.
On the day the COVID vaccine was approved in the UK, anti-vaccine activists were able to provoke pro-vaccine voices into posting about thalidomide, exposing new audiences to a reason to distrust the medical establishment. Those who spread misinformation understand the rules of the game online; it's time those of us on the side of enlightenment values of truth and science did too.
How to fight online misinformation
Of course, it is much easier for social media companies to take on this issue than for us citizens. Research from the Center for Countering Digital Hate and Anti-Vax Watch last month found that 65% of anti-vaccine content on social media is linked to just twelve individuals and their organizations. Were the platforms to simply remove the accounts of these superspreaders, it would do a huge amount to reduce harmful misinformation.
The problem is that social media platforms are resistant to do so. These businesses have been built by constantly increasing the amount of time users spend on their platforms. Getting rid of the creators of engaging content that has millions of people hooked is antithetical to the business model. It will require intervention from governments to force tech companies to finally protect their users and society as a whole.
So, what can the rest of us do, while we await state regulation?
Instead of engaging, we should be outweighing the bad with the good. Every time you see a piece of harmful misinformation, share advice or information from a trusted source, like the WHO or BBC, on the same subject. The trend of people celebrating and posting photos of themselves or loved ones receiving the vaccine has been far more effective than any attempt to disprove a baseless claim about Bill Gates or 5G mobile technology. In the attention economy that governs tech platforms, drowning out is a better strategy than rebuttal.
Imran Ahmed is CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate.