TORONTO – A timely guide to distinguishing fact from fiction in the era of “fake news” was announced Monday as the winner of the $30,000 National Business Book Award.
Neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin said he was prompted to write “A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age” (Allen Lane Canada) as a response to the “Balkanization of the news over the last 15 years.”
“It’s been divided up into a lot of little tiny countries,” Levitin said in an interview after his win.
“We used to get all of our news from a few places. Now, there are thousands of them, and they’re not all equally stable countries; they’re not all equally good.
“So, I think it’s increasingly important for everybody to know how to make sense out of various things that come across their computers, their phones and their desks.”
The term “fake news” has quickly become a part of the modern lexicon, whether it’s used by U.S. President Donald Trump to denounce unfavourable media coverage, or by content aggregators like Facebook that are attempting to stop the spread of misinformation.
While it may be a succinct way to summarize factually flawed or inaccurate stories, Levitin is not a fan of the term.
“I think it’s a euphemism that we should reject, because it isn’t news. It’s not like it’s a kind of news,” he said. “Putting the word ‘fake’ in front of it doesn’t make it news.”
Levitin said the main takeaway from his book — which is now being published under the title “Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era” — is that it doesn’t take as much time as people fear to think in an evidence-based manner, and that the investment is worth the effort.
“Kids who do this do better in school. When we have important health and financial decisions to make, having a set of tools that we can use, I think, is essential, and that’s what the book is designed to give.”
Levitin, a professor emeritus at McGill University and a distinguished faculty fellow at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, has authored other bestselling titles including “This Is Your Brain on Music,” “The World in Six Songs” and “The Organized Mind.”
The National Business Book Award is co-sponsored by PwC Canada and BMO Financial Group. Now in its 32nd year, the prize is handed out annually to the most outstanding Canadian business-related, non-fiction book of the previous year.
The other finalists were: “Distilled: A Memoir of Family, Seagram, Baseball, and Philanthropy” by Charles Bronfman with Howard Green (HarperCollins); “Bet On Me: Leading and Succeeding in Business and in Life” by Annette Verschuren with Eleanor Beaton (HarperCollins); and “Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business and the World” (Portfolio Canada) by father-and-son co-authors Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott.
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