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On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done Hardcover – 29 Sep 2009

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 100 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux (29 Sept. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809094738
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809094738
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 13.6 x 1.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,035,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

On Rumours Rumours are as old as human history, but with the rise of the internet it's now possible to spread stories about anyone, anywhere. In the 2008 US election many Americans believed Barack Obama was a Muslim. This book can make us think harder about the information we are given, and could help us move towards a more open-minded and fair culture. Full description

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

By begsuli on 12 Aug. 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is an interesting book...a must read for everyone to learn how things really are and how human nature works...Still is not a A-Z manual of how to tackle rumors but gives some important clues...
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 12 reviews
14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
The other reviews given for this book prove Sunstein's point 16 Feb. 2010
By B. Bober - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The emotionally charged polarized reviews on Amazon for this book are quite entertaining and surprising, and corroborate his section on "The Importance of Prior Conviction" (p 16-21). This book is definitely worth an hour of your time and it shouldn't require much more than that. I'd encourage anyone to read the first half of the book (just over 40 pages) and skip or skim read the rest. Whether that is worth $10 is debatable.

* The information in this book can be covered by the reader in 1-2 hours
* Clearly and succinctly covers common problems of group decision making
1. Information Cascades (p 21-8)
2. Conformity Cascades (p 28-32)
3. Group Polarization (p 32-42)

* This book is only 88 pages; the second half is largely forgettable
* His coverage of Biases (p 42-57) is disappointing
* His tentatively proposed solutions are insightful, but still very much a work in progress

I think Nudge is a better book - if for nothing else because you also get Thaler's input - but similarly Nudge is largely worthy of skim reading after the first half (actually after 100 pages). I think Sunstein is a very bright guy with tremendous insight. I just wish that instead of putting out so many different books he would put out fewer books that are more comprehensive.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Should have been called "On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread and Why We Believe Them" 5 Nov. 2012
By Elizabeth Ray - Published on
This slim little volume purports to explain how rumors disseminate, the reasons why people are inclined to believe them, and what can be done to stop the spread of false rumors. The author succeeds on the first two objectives, using a combination of results of psychology experiments, legal decisions, and real world examples to make his points. On the third objective he falters. He acknowledges that there needs to be a balance between the elusive "chilling factor" that would cause people to think twice before initiating or propagating false rumors and the right to free speech, but in the end seems to conclude that in the age of the internet the victims of falsehoods are screwed. Perhaps he is right, but I was hoping for more concrete ideas in the "what can be done" sections.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Rumour Has It... 13 July 2013
By L. King - Published on
Format: Hardcover
A light read and essentially an abridged version of Sunstein's Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Unite and Divide with the same basic arguments and examples. The goal is to explain why people accept false and destructive rumors and if we can protect ourselves against them. The key concepts presented are "social cascades" and "group polarization". The former is about whether or not one's peer group already holds a particular pov towards the subject. Casstein suggests that there is a tipping point level of external endorsement, different for each of us, where notions previously thought foolish or marginals suddenly become not only acceptable but consequential.

Once a rumour becomes entrenched there is a tendency to seek confirmation and filter out contradictory data... and people, either by forming cliques or other associations. This is especially easy to do on the Internet where simple search will lead one to communities of like minded people that can act as an echo chamber.

Rumour propagators may in some cases be malicious, in other cases they are simply interested in drawing a crowd to present their case where damage to others is collateral and unintended. Propagators may also believe themselves to be sincere and altruistic in bringing the rumour to the world's attention; listeners may latch onto the sincerity and reputation of the speaker, enhanced by the size, membership or credentials of other members of the community as justification for accepting false or misleading information. Solidarity leads to conformity and more tightly held views. In extreme case cases individuals become progressively radicalized to the point where aggressive action becomes a real possibility, and dominates personal behaviour.

As a model of how we accept, process and internalize information the theory is not bad, but while we would hope for some insight as to whether a particular rumour is true or false Sunstein admits to not having an answer. In my parent's generation there were voices of authority that people would respect in order to ascertain which beliefs were normalative and acceptable - a chilling effect on fringe ideas which Sunstein cautions is not always bad. And where one might place hope in Justice Brandeis's dictum that sunlight and a free society is the best disinfectant for falsehood, Sunstein worries that this is no guarantee as people do assimilate argumentation incompletely with an emotional bias.

Compared to Extremes what the book lacks is an index, footnotes pointing to Sunstein's sources and the latter chapters on social movements. If all you are interested in are the ideas or if you are a teacher and your target audience is middle or high school students, pick this one, which IMV is easy, accessible and brief. Otherwise get Extremes. Both would be unnecessary.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Too much pedantics; too few rumors 5 Mar. 2013
By Denise L. Weldon-siviy - Published on
This had GREAT potential. Then the author threw it away by droning on in suppositions and hypotheticals. Really? Like there aren't enough real people believing completely ridiculous rumors that he could have used to make this interesting and engaging? It's hard to believe a book about rumors could be this boring.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A good quick read 19 July 2014
By Patricia L. Claussen - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an interesting little book and also humorous. A good quick read. I understand it was reviewed in the Atlantic Monthly magazine.
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