Online seminar – Prof. Stephan Lewandowsky, University of Bristol: “Demagoguery, Technology, and Cognition: Addressing the Threats to Democracy”

On 16 February 2023, the #Webimmunization project team organized an open online seminar: “Demagoguery, Technology, and Cognition: Addressing the Threats to Democracy“. The speaker was Prof. Stephan Lewandowsky from the University of Bristol.

Prof. Stephan Lewandowsky is an Australian psychologist. He has worked in both the United States and Australia, and is currently based at the University of Bristol, UK, where he is the chair of cognitive psychology at the School of Psychological Science. His research, which originally pertained to computer simulations of people’s decision-making processes, recently has focused on the public’s understanding of science and why people often embrace beliefs that are sharply at odds with scientific evidence. More information about our guest speaker can be found here.

The event was held online via Teams platform and was conducted in English. 


Democracy is in retreat or under pressure worldwide. Even in countries with strong democracies, polarization is increasing, and the public sphere is awash in misinformation and conspiracy theories. Many commentators have blamed social media and the lack of platform governance for these unfortunate trends, whereas others have celebrated the Internet as a tool for liberation, with each opinion being buttressed by supporting evidence. One way to resolve this paradox is by identifying some of the pressure points that arise between the architecture of human cognition and the online information landscape, and how these pressure points can be used by populist demagogues to undermine democracy. I survey some of those pressure points, focusing on the attention economy and the algorithms that curate our news feeds, and I show how they allow politicians to replace evidence-based discourse with often emotive belief-speaking that is less sensitive to evidence and accountability. I discuss a spectrum of possible solutions.

The #Webimmunization project is being carried out in the framework of a consortium that includes: Jagiellonian University Collegium Medicum, Maj Institute of Pharmacology Polish Academy of Sciences, Poznan University of Technology, and the University of Oslo. The seminar is hosted by the Poznan partner of the project – a research group led by Prof. Mikolaj Morzy (Poznan University of Technology).