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The science of fake news

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Science  09 Mar 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6380, pp. 1094-1096
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao2998

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  • RE: Fake News and how to Address It.
    • Donald I. Siegel, Science consultant and emeritus professor, Syracuse University

    This article on fake news serves as a timely reminder on how its pervasiveness. But we can't change the problem, an information tragedy of the commons, by doing research on how to change the news ecosystem. Better factual data means little to the public anymore.

    Scientists now need to learn to change the narrative of their science, become better storytellers, and not "so much a scientist" in the public eye. Randy Olson has written books on this topic and given TED talks on it.

    I find using his approach actually makes a difference in changing how people view fake facts and to understand sound science. But storytelling in this way isn't part of STEM culture, although it is in humanities. STEM can learn from humanities in this case and a great deal.

    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • Censoring news is dangerous. Censorship by algorithm is worse.

    Lazer et al bemoan the fact that the Internet is awash with falsehoods and fabrications. With a nod to Snopes.com, they gloss over the genuinely difficult question, “how can we know what is true?” I am sure every reader of Science has caught Snopes in a misjudgment at some point. Do we really want Snopes or anyone to serve as our Ministry of Truth?

    Remember that politicians have told us absurdities when it suits their purpose. The best newspapers are all too willing to credit these absurdities when to question them risks loss of access to the politicians.

    Both the Vietnam War and the Iraq War were justified with disinformation promulgated by the U.S. government. The former was initiated with a fabricated incident in the Gulf of Tonken; the latter was justified with intelligence about "weapons of mass destruction" that the Downing Street Memo later revealed to be deliberately fallacious. These are certainly "fake news" but they would not have been tagged as such by either human or algorithmic censors, because the falsehoods were disseminated by a consensus of America's largest and most reliable media. On the contrary, the counterpoint to official lies appears commonly on smaller and more polemical web sites that are likely to be brushed aside as "fake news" when their fact base departs from the government line. The result is that censorship of those who dissent from the mainstream consensus makes it easier for the...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • Science information is not permanent but tentative

    Fake news is not a recent problem. Archaeologists discovered that fake news existed 3000 years ago (2). The discovery shows that Pharaoh Ramses II was an expert in ‘fake news’ rather than a great warrior (2). Harold Szu commented that the science is brittle , evolves just like evolution: the survival, the fittest (3). Scientific information is not robust/permanent but fragile. In other words, science information might be temporarily fake. Once the lay public misinterpreted such science information, it may be hard to change their misinterpretations. It is extremely hard to classify fake news since today's fake news might become true in the future. Contrarily, today's true news might be false in the near future. All scientists must understand that scientific information is not permanent but tentative as of today.

    1. David M. J. Lazer et al., "The science of fake news," Science 09 Mar 2018: Vol. 359, Issue 6380, pp. 1094-1096
    2. Ivan Petricevic, "Archaeologists Find ‘Fake News’ Existed Some 3,000 Years Ago Thanks To Ramses The Great,"
    3. Harold Szu's comment through ResearchGate to "Science is not robust but fragile," Science (eLetter, 2 Nov. 2017)

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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