February 03, 2019

Lie Detectors, many journalists would also benefit from lessons on fake news.

Sir, Simon Kuper describes the experiences of Belgian journalist Valentin Dauchot when dispatched to discuss fake news with classes of 10 and 11-years-old in Europe. Lie Detectors, a Brussels-based NGO that sends journalists to do that, finds that “children are often internet-savvier than teachers, and probably more so than old people”. “A lesson in fake news”, February 2.

Sir, I wonder how those children would classify the following information:

“Since your teachers have decided that dark forests are much more dangerous for all of you to enter, than staying out playing in an open field, anyone of you who enters the darkness of such forest, will be forced to eat broccoli and spinach for a full month. Anyone of you staying in the sunlight of the open field, will be rewarded with chocolate cake and ice cream each day for a whole month”. True or fake?

The children would respond: “Of course we wish it was true of course but, unfortunately, it has to be fake. Who would give us chocolate and ice cream for staying where we want to be, and spinach and broccoli for not entering what we already find to be scary?

Correspondingly, how would adults respond when they hear that regulators have risk weighted the capital requirements for banks, allowing these to hold much less of it against safe assets than against risky assets?

Most adults would say surely “True” “Great!”, and this even if anyone who has read anything about bank crises know well that the worst of these always result from excessive exposures to something ex ante perceived as very safe but that, ex post, turns out to be very risky, e.g. AAA rated securities.

Of course bankers, in this case being the children, cannot believe their luck with such fake regulations being decreed true by the Basel Committee. Imagine, earning the highest risk adjusted returns on equity on what’s perceived as safe! Imagine being able to hold much less equity against what we most love to hold, which of course leaves much more for bonuses to us!

Sir, how could Lie detectors help the adults, including of course journalists, like many in FT, to be more alert to the truthfulness of news and regulations? A good place to start would be with a full explanation of confirmation bias… that here resulting from most loving much too much the populist message of: “We have risk weighted the bank capital requirements for you so as to make these safer”