Weekly Digest #55: Avoiding "Alternate Facts"
There is no end to the amount of educational information out there. The problem is, not all of it is true. Among the scientific reports are collections of purposefully selected anecdotes, "experiments" conducted by companies trying to make a profit, and articles taking scientific evidence and misapplying them. With everything at our fingertips on the internet and the rampage of fake news, it is becoming even more crucial for us to be able to detect pseudoscience B.S and alternate versions of reality (i.e., lies).
Detecting pseudoscience is a skill. All of us learning scientists teach research methods to undergraduates at our respective institutions, and one of our jobs is to teach the difference between useful empirical evidence and information masquerading as scientific fact (or pseudoscience). The purpose in doing this is to teach our students to become good consumers of scientific information, a skill that is useful even to those who do not go on to become producers of such information. It's not just psychology students who should learn this skill, we all need to learn how to identify nonsense and ignore it. (Or, speak out against it.)
For this week's digest, we decided to present some sources that may be helpful in detecting the B.S. in today's world. First, we present an article outlining issues with the internet and the importance of understanding confirmation bias. We then present 2 pieces on detecting pseudoscience and 2 pieces on detecting fake news.
1) How the web distorts reality and impairs our judgment skills by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, @drtcp
The internet was supposed to be the great equalizer, giving us infinite access to knowledge. Sounds great right? This article outlines some of the issues.
2) Detecting Psuedo-Science by Michael Tobis
This handy table directly compares science and B.S. side by side. One of us uses this table in their research methods classes.
This piece, while longer, has fantastic information about detecting pseudoscience. Brian Dunning describes 15 ways to detect pseudoscience and explains why they can be a problem or how they might be used to deceive. Brian Dunning is the host and producer of Skeptoid, a podcast dedicated to applying critical thinking to urban legends and B.S. propagated by mass media.
4) How to fight "fake news," according to a community that's battled it for decades, on Vox by Julia Belluz, @julieoftoronto
This piece tells the story of a woman who was adamant that home births were better than hospital births. And then, she was clued into the scientific evidence. Now, she is a very tough critic of home births. How have medical doctors fought against misinformation so that they could save lives? How did this woman change her mind? Read this article.
5) Fake or Real? How to Self-Check the News and Get the Facts on NPR by Wynne Davis, @wynneellyn
Fake news isn't new, but it is a huge problem. One of us recently saw that Facebook is now presenting it's users with articles on how to detect fake news. Facebook is one of the places we can easily come across fake news (and due to Facebook algorithms, there are likely to be very large confirmation bias issues with the fake news articles people will tend to come across). We rely on the news to tell us what is going on in the world. How do we weed through what is real and what is fake?
Every Sunday, we pick a theme and provide a curated list of links. If you have a theme suggestion, please don’t hesitate to contact us! Occasionally we publish a guest digest, and If you'd like to propose a guest digest click here. Our 5 most recent digests can be found here: