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unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation Paperback – April 24, 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

According to Jamieson and Jackson, both of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center, "spin is a polite word for deception," and deception is everywhere. As a remedy, they offer this media literacy crash course. The authors explore spin's warning signs ("If it's scary, be wary") and the tricks used to bring people around to a certain point of view ("The implied falsehood," "Frame it and claim it"), as well as the lessons to call on when confronted with conflicting or suspect stories ("Extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence"). Although they tackle the checkered history of product pitches (from snake oil to Cold-Eeze), what stands out is their keen insight into Washington politics, where "deception is a bipartisan enterprise," as illustrated by Bush and Kerry in the 2004 presidential election (in which both fudged the facts of unemployment and taxation). September 11 and the run-up to Gulf War II give the authors their most convincing talking points, debunking myths and chronicling Washington's use of "fear, uncertainty, and doubt"-cited so often it gets the acronym "FUD"-to generate public support for the 2003 invasion. However, the rules to avoid these and other carefully enumerated tricks range from commonsensical ("You can't be completely certain") to labor intensive ("Check primary sources"), leaving one to wonder whether the spin doctors have already won out over energy- and time-deficient Americans.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Kathleen Hall Jamieson is the Elizabeth Ware Packard Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication and Walter and Leonore Annenberg Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. An expert on political campaigns, Dr. Jamieson has received numerous teaching and service awards including the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Award. She is the recipient of many fellowships and grants including support from The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Ford Foundation, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The MacArthur Foundation, and The Carnegie Corporation of New York. Dr. Jamieson is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the American Philosophical Society. She is the author, co-author or editor of 13 books including: THE 2000 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION AND THE FOUNDATIONS OF PARTY POLITICS; THE PRESS EFFECT; EVERYTHING YOU THINK YOU KNOW ABOUT POLITICS...AND WHY YOU'RE WRONG; DIRTY POLITICS: DECEPTION, DISTRACTION AND DEMOCRACY; BEYOND THE DOUBLE BIND: WOMEN AND LEADERSHIP; and SPIRAL OF CYNICISM: PRESS AND PUBLIC GOOD. She received the Speech Communication Association's Golden Anniversary Book Award for PACKAGING THE PRESIDENCY and the Winans-Wichelns Book Award for ELOQUENCE IN AN ELECTRONIC AGE.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; First Printing edition (April 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400065666
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400065660
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,736 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Edwin C. Pauzer VINE VOICE on November 13, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
At least I think it's a great book, but now I'm not so sure. The authors, Brooks Jackson, and Kathleen Hall Jamieson have done such an outstanding job of showing me why I bought the electric scissors I didn't need and how I was focusing so much on watching the healthy people on the television doing Tai Chi in the park, I completely overlooked the possible side effects of the drug the commercial was pedaling. Now that I've listened and found out that it may lead to complete loss of body hair, tailbone growth, swelling of the lips and tongue, excessive weight gain, webbed feet, tooth loss, emesis and leprosy, I've stopped taking the drug.

Starting out with the first snake oil salesman making outrageous claims, to political advertisements by republicans and democrats, by Bush and Kerry, we learn that virtually none of them can be trusted because they appeal to our biases, our perception, our experiences, and cynicism with words that are open to interpretation such as clinically tested, larger, better, more people trust or use..., on average, and other caveats that deserve closer scrutiny. (I've also added to the list: "Read with an open mind," and "Only for those who can be objective").

If that isn't bad enough, the authors show us how our personal experiences and eyewitness accounts can be manipulated by others and by our own biases. For example, when subjects were shown two lines of differing lengths, they often reported that the shorter one was longer, once they learned that everyone else (supposedly) had selected the shorter line. An even better one is the neighboring review: One, who has made his conservative feelings clear, felt that there was more "left favoring" bias to this book. A commenter said that he felt there was more "right-favoring" bias.
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Format: Paperback
As a lifelong skeptic I can get with books like this, in which you can learn the best uses of skepticism against an epidemic of misinformation. This one starts out with some recent scientific evidence on why people believe spin and stick to their beliefs so doggedly when contradictory information is ripe for the plucking. That's basically the most useful aspect of the book, and the rest is a parade of obvious examples of spin and some fairly useful prescriptions for immunizing yourself. The examples given of spin, unleashed by everyone from marketers to academics to politicians (big surprise), are likely to irk the thinking American. But the problem is that the authors assume that all types of public disinformation are equally harmful, from cheesy and harmless marketing like "new and improved" to the worst of political fearmongering. In one ridiculous example, a British commander ploy to keep secret some minor battle plans in the Falklands War is conflated to the same level of distaste as lies about the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians in Iraq. Ironically, the thinking skeptics that the authors are trying to train would be able to parse the world of disinformation more usefully than this book does.

The authors also think that "bipartisanship" is the simple act of critiquing both major political parties, when it would be more useful to critique the system that creates partisanship altogether; while they often recommend that you look at "both" sides of a story, displaying the same systematic tendency of assuming that there are only two ways (left wing vs. right wing) of looking at any complex issue.. Also annoying is the specific recommendation not to assume that one example of spin is a widespread trend.
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This is an excellent book for the person who wants to understand how they are being lied to. It is difficult to make sure our biases don't creep in unless we label our comments as opinion. They did a scholarly job here. Nevertheless, their political bias came through. In my opinion this is one of the basic books we all should read.
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Though it is mostly common sense, most people need to be reminded of their biases and the way they take in information as "fact". This gives excellent examples of bias, misleading info, and info that is "spun" into whatever a person wants. For example, the area on evidence based from research. Even though it may come from a reliable source, was the research peer reviewed? Did it have a reasonable sample? Who financed the research? Now reading through some many of these news articles (like one reviewer stated, the authors claimed that AP was fairly unbiased), I can pick apart the articles in a matter of minutes (using the internet) and go straight to many of the sources (as they instruct you how to do within the book).
Overall, this book is a staple on anyone's desk. It should be required reading for high school and college students.
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I was shocked, *shocked*, to learn that advertisers and politicians had been lying to me.
Actually, no, I wasn't. But it seems too many people are unaware of the degree to which they are being "spun" and the ways in which the facts are being distorted to create a particular impression.
The authors have written a clear, concise, and direct treatise on the subject. This should be required reading for all citizens in this country, and probably also should be taught in the schools. They have organized their discourse into several sections:
* Warning signs of trickery - Seven key warning signs that one is being "spun."
* Tricks - Eight proven tricks used against the public.
* Rules for How to be Sure - Nine invaluable rules to follow when trying to sort fact from fiction.
Each of these signs, tricks, and rules is illustrated with revealing and amusing tales of successful flim-flam.
Between the Tricks and the Rules are excellent chapters on the psychological reasons we fall for such tricks, techniques for avoiding falling for hoaxes, and a clear argument that facts can save your life.
Some, such as William Lutz in "Doublespeak" (1989), have exposed the techniques used and inveighed against them.
Others, such as Farhad Manjoo in "True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society" (2008), have addressed some of the psychological reasons and methods people manage to avoid reasoning based on the facts.
Jackson and Jamieson have cut to the chase and offered a clear and concise manual for understanding the techniques used and making oneself proof against them
This book is a must-read and a real "keeper."
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