Nation: Jess Berentson-Shaw on ‘fake news’ and it’s effect on our lives

There could be more fake claims about fake news than there is fake news. Media is rightly being criticised for lack of care in reporting, and for slanted reporting, but generally newspapers correct news that they get wrong.

But who should correct those who use ‘fake news’ accusations as an attempt to discredit news or opinions they don’t like or don’t want published?

On Newshub Nation this morning:

And as hundreds of newspapers across the US fight back against President Donald Trump’s attack on the media, we speak to author Jess Berentson-Shaw about the prevalence of Fake News and the effect it’s having on our day-to-day lives

A book by Berentson-Shaw – A Matter of Fact: Talking Truth in a Post-Truth World – was recently launched, and was the basis of a panel discussion last weekend,


Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw describes misinformation as ‘sticky’, says it is very hard to change someone’s mind once they are convinced of a falsehood, regardless of what evidence they are presented

She says misinformation is not new, the Trump administration just gave it a new name with ‘alternative facts

Poverty #3 still lacks solid evidence

Jess Berentson-Shaw’s third article on child poverty makes more claims that giving more money, no questions asked, to poor families is the best way to deal with poverty.

Berentson-Shaw is described as ‘a science researcher at the Morgan Foundation’ but there is a lack of scientific backing to her articles. I have asked the Morgan Foundation for details.

The latest article is Bad parenting is not the reason for child poverty

The single most effective action we can take to improve the lives of children in poverty is to give parents money, no questions asked. In two previous articles, I’ve shown that when parents in poverty are given more money, they use it to better the lives of their children.

She hasn’t shown that beyond some vague references. She has provided no scientific backing to her claims.

I suspect that many in New Zealand will express both shock and total disbelief that the evidence could possibly support this conclusion. At the heart of this shock is the common belief that children in poverty suffer because of bad parents, not the lack of money.

In part we believe this myth because our focus on “child” poverty has separated in the public’s mind these children from their families. The children are innocent and need our help therefore we glibly conclude that the parents are “guilty”: guilty of ignorance and abandonment of their parental responsibilities.

She makes alarming generalisations there without any details to back up her claims.

New Zealanders love to perpetuate the image of the “mad, bad, poor parent”, but it is a lazy, inaccurate and dangerous story to tell because it has led us to put our best efforts into the least-efficient solutions.

It could be suggested that Berentson-Shaw is telling a lazy or inaccurate story, unless she can provide credible substantiation.

In reality, stress and limited resources interact with each other to determine children’s well-being.

Take learning to read, for example. A family who can’t afford to buy books for children may also have less time, ability and energy to read to their child. We know that being read to is crucial for later learning, so this problem creates a gulf in skills between the haves and have-nots that no school can hope to bridge.

This example is alarming.

Has Berentson-Shaw done any research into how much no questions asked additional cash will go into buying children books? And whether it will increase the time spent reading to children?

Reading to children and encouraging children to read are important for education.

New Zealand ranks highly in literacy rates but there are still a large minority who don’t have adequate educational outcomes – in 2002 there were 76% of 25–64 year olds attaining at least upper secondary education, meaning 24% didn’t. (Statistics New Zealand).

And this report from 2013 from Stuff: Experts appalled as literacy rates continue to flatline

While the rest of the world’s literacy rates have been improving, New Zealand’s have flatlined for more than a decade, education experts say.

In a report published yesterday, Massey University researchers say schools’ approach to literacy is “fundamentally flawed.

Research showed those pupils achieving the least were unlikely even to finish the reading recovery programme, Prof Tunmer said.

“A significant number of the lowest-performing 6-year-olds are excluded from reading recovery because they are considered unlikely to benefit, or are withdrawn early when they do not meet expected rates of progress.”

Ministry deputy secretary Rowena Phair acknowledged concerns for those with low levels of literacy.

“We have consistently said that it is no longer acceptable to allow up to a fifth of our learners to complete their schooling without the literacy and numeracy skills they need to succeed in a modern economy.”

It is claimed that “as many as half of New Zealand’s prisoners are functionally illiterate”.  (Howard League)

Just giving more money to poor families is unlikely to suddenly change interest in literacy in poor families.

My guess is that most poor families manage to read to children and provide them with books – I grew up in a very poor family but went to the library regularly. But those poor families without an ability or interest in reading are unlikely to change on their own just because they are given more money.

Berentson-Shaw concludes:

What the evidence tells us is that children in poverty do poorly not because they have irresponsible parents, but because they live in families under stress. Give them money to release the pressure valve and families and children do a whole lot better. It is not 100 per cent effective of course, but it gets closer than anything else we have tried.

What evidence? Berentson-Shaw may have some but that isn’t apparent.

Again, the generalised claims without substantiation here are alarming from a “science researcher”.

What if the Government has committed to billions of extra spending and “what is left” is largely the same? Cut the cash and look at other ways of dealing with entrenched problems? Or just keep increasing spending and see what is left after that?

First, we need to remove the financial stress then we deal with what is left.

How much will it take to “remove the financial stress”. Most average families experience ongoing financial stress throughout much of the two or three decades of bringing up kids.

Most people probably don’t think they have enough money to live stress free lives.

In 2016, the Morgan Foundation will release the findings of our investigation into families and children in poverty in New Zealand.

I hope their findings are far more evidence and science based than this series of articles by Berentson-Shaw have been.