fakenews

Exploring the Problem of Fake News and Science Reporting

During and even after the recent US election campaign, there were numerous reports of fake news, made-up news, and other kinds of news that were deemed either outright fabrication or inaccurate or incomplete reporting of something to skewer it into one point of view or another. While the outright-fabricated news can easily be spotted eventually, there are other kinds of news reporting that were not as easily spotted, and worse still, continue to be cited by numerous news organizations, websites, and even political figures.

Most of this news involves inaccurate or misleading reporting of either data or facts. One such example is the recent report of the unemployment rate in the US that had been used in the recent political campaign. One can see why it isn’t really wrong, technically, to indicate that the US unemployment rate can be anywhere from 4.6% all the way to, get this, 40.3%! Anyone can take one or the other extreme number and claim to be “correct”. But what about the public listening to such claims? Are they aware of the two extreme numbers, and are they aware of why they are so different? Can they understand the context where those two numbers were derived?

So that was the setup for what I’m about to tell you here. This is a continuation, or maybe a reinforcement of the point that I had tried to make in my earlier article on The Most Important Thing You Can Learn From PhysicsForums. You see, in that article, one of the important points that I tried to emphasize is the constant “nagging” of senior members of this forum for members to clearly pay attention to their sources of information, and to CITE those sources clearly:

We try to enforce many things here on PF, and some of them to the dislike of many members. I’ve mentioned our insistence that members who wish to understand about stuff they read, heard, etc. must cite their sources clearly. This is a normal practice in science and engineering. We includes tons of citations in our papers, our funding proposals, our reports, etc. It is part of our standard operating procedure, making sure whoever reads it knows where the source of such-and-such information comes from. This is not a common practice for the general public. Newspapers very seldom provide such exact citations. Politicians are even worse – they seem to claim A causes B without even providing any justification, something we can’t do in science. Maybe, just maybe, if you learn how we arrive at our ideas in science, then you might set your acceptance level of what is valid to be higher, where you demand to know what is the evidence to support that A causes B? What is the nature of the source that support this? There is no reason to not demand valid supporting evidence even in dealing with political and social issues. Otherwise, it becomes just a matter of opinion or tastes without any rational justification. This is what science set as a standard, and this is why HOW we arrive at the conclusion we have is something important that you can learn from this forum.

I hope that you can already see the connection between where I’m going and the issue of “fake news” that I reported at the beginning of this article. If you care that much about knowing the unemployment rate in the US (for whatever reason), then you simply should not rely on the news reports, and certainly not from the mouths of politicians, for those numbers. What this means is that you have to go dig out the source, read how these numbers were arrived at, and maybe even try to understand how they were obtained, and then understand why there were such variations and ranges in the numbers reported. You have to go back to the source, rather than rely on news media reporting or 2nd, even 3rd-hand news! The source of your information requires to be scrutinized!

So how does this relate to physics or science in general? The impetus for my writing this article happened very recently, but this type of “fake news” has happened numerous times before. This is not outright fabricated news, but rather misleading news. But what is even worse is that this misleading information, once it has appeared online, gets propagated by other news media, and thus, giving an unsuspecting general public the wrong impression of what actually was going on.

The story in question is the recent publication on the verification of the magnetic field topology for a fusion reactor or Stellarator known as Wendelstein 7-X. This is a significant milestone in the process of commissioning the stellarator because the geometry of the magnetic field inside this reactor is extremely complex and with tight tolerances. In fact, you can read the actual publication of this paper since it is open to the public.

So then, what’s the problem? Now, remember what they are reporting here, i.e. the accuracy of the magnetic field topology that they had designed. This is important if they want to continue on and possibly generate a fusion process when this beast is finally running.

But along comes the various sites reporting this work and this is where things become misleading very quickly.

From Popular Mechanics website:
Germany’s Wildly Complex Fusion Reactor Is Actually Working

However, the stellerator design is still relatively untested, so a group of researchers spent the past year studying the W7-X reactor to ensure that it was working the way it was supposed to. They found an incredibly small error rate, less than 1 in 100,000, which the researchers characterized as “unprecedented accuracy.”

Here’s something from Space.com:

“Star-In-A-Jar” Fusion Reactor Works and Promises Infinite Energy
In a study published in the latest edition of the journal Nature Communications, researchers confirmed that Germany’s Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) fusion energy device is on track and working as planned. The space-age system, known as a stellerator, generated its first batch of hydrogen plasma when it was first fired up earlier this year. The new tests basically give scientists the green light to proceed to the next stage of the process.

The unsuspecting public (remember them?) might read either of these articles and (i) pay huge attention to the title and (ii) will get the message that I highlighted above from each of these articles. The result? People will think that the stellarator is now working and they’re moving on to the next phase. This is completely wrong! They have not reported such a thing, even though this is an important step towards making the device work. What these two news articles focused on was the “sexy” side to the story, i.e. a fusion reactor and the promise of “infinite energy”. Reporting that the group confirmed the shape and strength of the magnetic field is boring (other than the neat picture that accompanied the paper). So they stretched the truth a bit and went for the non-existent jugular. This is “fake news”.

Now I will be fair to both of them. Unlike regular news articles, these two at least provided links to the source. So anyone with any keen interest can pursue this further and read the actual paper. But how many of the members of the general public will (i) do that and (ii) be able to understand the technical details of the paper? They rely on news summaries such as these to give them the gist, and presumably, ACCURATE information. Otherwise, if they have to actually dig the source each time, what’s the point in such a news summary in the first place?

It is disheartening to see “established” websites reporting and/or propagating misleading news such as this. We on PF have often seen members coming in and citing many such sources. These members can become frustrated, usually with us, when we tell them that they either didn’t understand what the real thing was or that the news they read is incorrect or inaccurate. Worse yet, we get crackpots who rely on this inaccurate news to propagate their ignorance.

The moral of this story is caveat emptor!

Unless you are ready to dig a bit deeper into what you read and get your hands on the source, you have to be aware that you are relying on someone’s interpretation, motive, agenda, etc. in whatever you are reading. It is why we insist that you pay attention to the quality of your source of information and that you cite the source you are using to back your claims. Otherwise, there is no way for us to know if you misinterpret/misunderstand what you read, or if you read another “fake news”.

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  1. dkotschessaa says:

    [QUOTE="FactChecker, post: 5647172, member: 500115"][USER=282745]@dkotschessaa[/USER] Good links on the logical fallacies.. though some of the examples I think are flawed… The one that struck me is The inevitable result of handgun control is the government seizure of all guns". A better example would be "The inevitable result of handgun control is the government seizure of all vehicles".  Yes, Guns kill.. it's what they're designed to do, whether they're handguns or any other, so it would follow that controlling one will lead to the control of the other.. However, vehicles are equally capable of killing people, but they have other uses and killing isn't what they're designed for…. Sooo.. a logical fallacy in the logical fallacy article :P I had more points I wanted to talk about but it's getting late[/QUOTE] It's supposed to be an example of what a slippery slope fallacy would look like, so I think it's fine as it stands.  It's certainly the kind of thing people say. Your counterexample would serve another purpose.  It's an example of a slippery slope fallacy stretched to absurdity, so I would use it as a counter argument.  So if someone says "The inevitable result of handgun control is the government seizure of all guns". You could respond "That's like saying 'The inevitable result of handgun control is the government seizure of all vehicles." and show how their reasoning leads to an absurdity.  (Kind of like a proof by contradiction..sorta). We might be veering off into another topic though. -Dave K

  2. Rx7man says:

    Ohhh… Sooo much to sayTo start with, after the marathon of primaries and then the election, I'm TIRED.. I'm SICK and TIRED of being FORCED to check every single 'fact'.  I have a pretty good BS detector.. so perhaps I'm actually a skeptic, or worse, a cynic.. How far do I have to dig to find the sources?.. I know it's not infallible, but Snopes is usually a good start.Example: On my facebook someone was warning of people picking up your keyfob clicks when you lock your car and they'd unlock it when you turned your back and steal you blind.Right away red flags went up.. I also know that consumer encryption systems are not infallible.. So a quick check on snopes said it has been done.. but on OLD cars from the 1980's.. I'm certain it's POSSIBLE to crack keyfob codes, but the computing power to do it is probably not going to be on a laptop in the next car, and not in the time it takes for you to pay for your gas.I posted the snopes link and right away someone has to pipe up "But snopes isn't always right".. sigh.. On a different level, How do you verify what Wikileaks posts?  I lost a little faith in them in the last few months by being evidently partisan… and honestly, how can you prove or disprove any of their releases?  Sounds a lot like you just gotta take their word for it that the leaked emails were actually ever written!  I'm not a person who puts a lot of trust in any government, so I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place… I can't with certainly believe anything either side says, just have to look at both of them as 'plausible'.[USER=282745]@dkotschessaa[/USER] Good links on the logical fallacies.. though some of the examples I think are flawed… The one that struck me is The inevitable result of handgun control is the government seizure of all guns". A better example would be "The inevitable result of handgun control is the government seizure of all vehicles".  Yes, Guns kill.. it's what they're designed to do, whether they're handguns or any other, so it would follow that controlling one will lead to the control of the other.. However, vehicles are equally capable of killing people, but they have other uses and killing isn't what they're designed for…. Sooo.. a logical fallacy in the logical fallacy article :PI had more points I wanted to talk about but it's getting late

  3. FactChecker says:

    It is not practical to become an expert and research the sources of everything we need to know. One has to trust certain sources of information without checking each one. I tend to trust professional people and scientists who are not political. Once that decision is made, I am largely at the mercy of those sources. Alternatively, not trusting those people leaves one either responsible for researching every fact individually or routinely trusting politicians, religious leaders, and friends.
    PS. Regarding the first example of the unemployment rate, there are 6 numbers, U1, U2, …, U6, published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. U3 is the standard one, but U6 is much more inclusive (includes discouraged people who have stopped looking but want a job). They are all valid sources for what they measure. Although those numbers vary greatly from each other (currently from U1=1.8% to U6=9.3%), they all show similar consistent trends.

  4. collinsmark says:

    [QUOTE="Vanadium 50, post: 5646435, member: 110252"]I agree it shouldn't be allowable.  I was just commenting that the creators usually don't think it's real.  ("Hillary Clinton Adopts Alien Baby" didn't happen).  They did break the John Edwards/Rielle Hunter story, although I am not sure they thought it was real at the time either.[/QUOTE]Is that really a National Enquirer story? It sounds more like something coming from the Weekly World News (which is arguably satire).Here are some headlines in National Enquirer online version, as of today:TAYLOR SWIFT SHUNS JESSICA SIMPSONMEGHAN MARKLE NUDE — PRINCE HARRY'S NEW ROYAL SCANDALMUHAMMAD ALI: FBI FILES REVEAL REPORT OF FIXED FIGHTSensationalistic garbage, but I wouldn't call it satire. Satire is supposed to be funny. These are just mindless slops of gossip.

  5. Vanadium 50 says:

    I agree it shouldn't be allowable.  I was just commenting that the creators usually don't think it's real.  ("Hillary Clinton Adopts Alien Baby" didn't happen).  They did break the John Edwards/Rielle Hunter story, although I am not sure they thought it was real at the time either.

  6. Evo says:

    [QUOTE="Vanadium 50, post: 5646422, member: 110252"]It really doesn't.  I've talked to a former Enquirer staffer, and nobody believes Bigfoot is Elvis' love child.  Or the reverse.  However, everything they print has to be sourced.  The paper has to be able to point to something for every article and say "Here's where we got it from."  And, as you might imagine, they don't look too carefully at the quality of these sources – where's the profit in that?[/QUOTE]Well, it's a tabloid.  Sensationalist, but not comic or satire.

  7. Vanadium 50 says:

    [QUOTE="ZapperZ, post: 5646378, member: 6230"]The Enquirer THINKS itself as "serious news".[/QUOTE]It really doesn't.  I've talked to a former Enquirer staffer, and nobody believes Bigfoot is Elvis' love child.  Or the reverse.  However, everything they print has to be sourced.  The paper has to be able to point to something for every article and say "Here's where we got it from."  And, as you might imagine, they don't look too carefully at the quality of these sources – where's the profit in that?

  8. Evo says:

    [QUOTE="rbelli1, post: 5646325, member: 315621"]One is sources like The Onion and The Enquirer which are fiction.[/QUOTE]No, The Onion is satire, it is not news and does not pretend to be news,  The Enquirer pretends to be news.We are having forum problems, so I have deleted your post which is completely wrong.  I will fix it once the forum is fixed.I will have to close the thread until the software is fixed.

  9. ZapperZ says:

    [QUOTE="rbelli1, post: 5646325, member: 315621"]There are several different things that are called "Fake News"One is sources like The Onion and The Enquirer which are fiction. These occasionally get reported as actual fact when they are a fiction type entertainment. I don't believe anything that comes out of those publications any more than I wonder why there is no crater in place of the White House even I saw it destroyed in the movie Independence Day.[/quote]I don't see The Onion and the Enquirer being the same thing, even though one may consider both sources as "fictions". The Onion doesn't take itself seriously, and freely admits to being a parody. The Enquirer THINKS itself as "serious news". So one can easily compare The Onion as being the Alan Sokal's infamous hoax (its creator knows it isn't true), while The Enquirer as a crackpot (its creator seriously thinks he/she is producing seriously legitimate work… seriously!).Zz.

  10. rbelli1 says:

    There are several different things that are called "Fake News"One is sources like The Onion and The Enquirer which are fiction. These occasionally get reported as actual fact when they are a fiction type entertainment. I don't believe anything that comes out of those publications any more than I wonder why there is no crater in place of the White House even I saw it destroyed in the movie Independence Day.A second class of "Fake News" is as discussed in the insights article. Take some true statement or evidence and either following it to a possible future conclusion as in the article or fill in any missing information with whatever you want. The latter happens all the time when a public figure or agency declines to answer a question. Not answering proves that any statement on the subject not directly contradicted by available evidence must be true. Even if it completely boggles the mind. I was originally tempted to give some examples but that would only encourage the perpetrators. This class of misinformation is more an invalid conclusion rather than a Fake News.Increasingly I am seeing people call anything they disagree with "Fake News". As in "The Onion (Enquirer, etc.) reported [insert news like comedy sketch here] therefore [unrelated news item] is wrong because "FAKE NEWZES!". Or [highly polarized talking head] said [inflammatory opinion statement] therefore anything in the ballpark of their political/social affiliation is wrong because "FAKE NEWZES!" This argument is essentially made up news like entertainment exists therefore we can't believe any news ever. Or someone was wrong once therefore don't believe anything they or any even remotely like minded person says ever.BoB

  11. Keith_McClary says:

    [QUOTE="Dr. Courtney, post: 5645402, member: 117790"]The Wikipedia verifiability and reliable source guidelines are pretty good[/QUOTE]Wikipedia policy says:Wikipedia articles on history and religion draw from a religion's sacred texts as well as from modern archaeological, historical, and scientific sources.This means that History articles are sourced to the Bible .For current events "reliable sources" are (somehow, secretly) decreed to be MSM like NYT and WaPo which are conduits for CIA "leaks" (IMO "plants").

  12. Dr. Courtney says:

    One of the things we've done for students we mentor is have them author and/or edit several Wikipedia articles related to their research topics.  The Wikipedia verifiability and reliable source guidelines are pretty good, and by the time students have learned to comply and written a few articles, they have learned much more than most high school and college students about distinguishing between sources and spotting the fakes when something seems off.  A bonus is when a Wikipedia editor runs afoul of their standards, someone comes along and points it out, so the teacher/mentor does not have to be constantly policing and correcting.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Verifiability#Reliable_sourceshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Identifying_reliable_sources

  13. mheslep says:

    What was reporting has morphed into propaganda in many outlets.   I think they why is an embrace of power, enabled by arrogance.  Power is now obtained by the sensational, and power then enables the age old utopian notion that "It is I that will save the world", a better cover for power than arrogance.  Outlets that frown on personalities are much better at reporting.  See e.g. CSPAN, where hardly anyone knows the on air reporters.

  14. gmax137 says:

    What was reporting has morphed into "journalism" which succeeds by providing exposés rather than simple facts.  At one time, a typical article in the local paper might have been, "Joe Smith suffered minor  injuries in an accident when struck by a city bus at the intersection of 1st and Poplar…"  Now, it's more likely "Councilman Peters declined comment on his ongoing opposition to installing a flashing light at the intersection of 1st and Poplar.  Peters, also president of Peters Concrete, has opposed anything that would slow traffic on 1st street…"Why the change?  Obviously a story about corrupt politicians gains more interest than a run-of-the-mill fender bender.

  15. dkotschessaa says:

    BTW, I want to come back to the original article and relate something I did when I was president of the math club at my University.  This could easily be extended to other fields. (probably more easily than math). The students (mostly undergrads) weren't at a point where they could give talks about research and whatnot.  So I did a project called "math in the media."  I had them pick a math related news story (it didn't have to be super recent) and asked them (via a form) to answer the following questions:What is the title of the News Article?What is the main idea of the news article?What is the title of the original paper the news article was based off of?What type of math was used in the article?  Do you feel the newspaper article and the original research communicated the same idea?I had them just give like 10-15 minute talks during our math club meetings. So one meeting would be 3 or 4 students.  It was really cool.  The really fun part, especially in physics I think, is the comparison of the news title to the original paper.-Dave K

  16. dkotschessaa says:

    [QUOTE="john101, post: 5643046, member: 606835"]I don't seek to stay informed except in the particular things I'm personally interested in like real life real time matters like 'is it  so quiet because it's a public holiday' or 'what was that noise', why is there no '?' available' and so on.I live in a relatively quiet little town outback. Whatever things I get informed in are a result of people mentioning them in conversations. The beauty out here is that if it's not the weather or the state of farming there is generally little else talked about. I have one friend (who knows I don't want to be informed) who has sometimes great difficulty not informing me but generally manages.For science news I find this forum enough.[/QUOTE]I actually totally sympathize with this viewpoint, because I think most news is basically garbage and noise and doesn't affect our lives in anyway.  I'm trying to find a more middle ground than what you have done though.  I'm thinking that if we've forgotten about the story in a week or a month, then it probably was just hype, so I'd prefer to just recap at those intervals.  It's just so hard to get away from though. -Dave K

  17. dkotschessaa says:

    [QUOTE="stevendaryl, post: 5643550, member: 372855"]I guess, without being an expert, you can see warning signs about a claim's believability, if you read the original sources. But for a lot of claims that are made routinely, the original sources are hard or impossible to come by.[/QUOTE]Yes, it's kind of not fair, but for the last 6 years I've had access to JSTOR through my university. When our premature baby was in the hospital for 3 months, I would consult it whenever the doctors would recommend some course of action.    Not everybody does that? LOLBut lack of access to information is a big problem right now, especially when it comes to scientific knowledge.  There is a lot of ruckus being raised at the present time.-Dave K

  18. dkotschessaa says:

    [QUOTE="stevendaryl, post: 5643547, member: 372855"]The question is: What counts as a good argument?[/QUOTE]One that is sound and valid. One that does not contain logical fallacies. [QUOTE]Yes, but the notion of what's plausible and what's not depends on a background of knowledge. If people don't share that background, then they will have different notions of what's plausible. Some stories, such as the possibility of getting hit by a car, presumably we have personal experience that tells us that it is plausible. But if you go beyond things that you have direct experience with, you have to rely on indirect knowledge to tell you what's plausible.[/QUOTE]If you know what makes a valid argument, you can still see whether an argument is valid whether or not you know the field.  What you can't always test is soundness.  In this case, you may need to defer to an expert, in which case it is best to check their motivations, background, consensus, etc.  But the less you know, the more important it is to continue to be skeptical and defer judgement.  True skepticism requires an extremely open mind, because you continue to defer judgement until you believe you have enough information to take a position.   [QUOTE]Yes, there is a difference, but they both contribute to doubt in similar ways. (If you're cynical about the honesty or motivations of the reporter, or the researcher, then you are more likely to be skeptical about his claims.)[/QUOTE]OK.  I do think cynicism is more global.  Basically if you're a cynic, you believe that everybody is motivated by self interest and greed.  (The case can be made that this is true, but I think cynicism is even more extreme).  So yes, this would make you skeptical.  But there are ways to motivate skepticism that are not based in a cynical view of the world.-Dave K

  19. stevendaryl says:

    [QUOTE="dkotschessaa, post: 5643545, member: 282745"]BTW, when it comes to medical stuff, i find that I'm able to develop an opinion by reading a few studies about effectiveness, despite the fact that I don't have a medical background.  Again, a small amount of quantitative literacy comes into play here.   Was it tested? Was there a control group? Peer reviewed? Double blind?  How big was the sample?   I don't need to know the mechanics of the drug.. just "is there some probability this will work, and does it outweigh the potential complications?"[/QUOTE]I guess, without being an expert, you can see warning signs about a claim's believability, if you read the original sources. But for a lot of claims that are made routinely, the original sources are hard or impossible to come by.

  20. stevendaryl says:

    [QUOTE="dkotschessaa, post: 5643540, member: 282745"]Skeptical doesn't mean you don't believe anything.  It just means you don't believe anything without evidence and good argument.[/QUOTE]The question is: What counts as a good argument?[QUOTE]The bolder the claim, the higher the demand should be on the reasoning and evidence.  If the story says "man hit by car walking down the street" I think this is fairly plausible and I'm not going to run to the named intersection looking for the blood stains.  If the article says "man stumbles into a black hole created by grad students in university parking lot" then I'm going to be doing some fact checking. (Actually I wouldn't believe that at all, but I'm exaggerating a bit!)[/QUOTE]Yes, but the notion of what's plausible and what's not depends on a background of knowledge. If people don't share that background, then they will have different notions of what's plausible. Some stories, such as the possibility of getting hit by a car, presumably we have personal experience that tells us that it is plausible. But if you go beyond things that you have direct experience with, you have to rely on indirect knowledge to tell you what's plausible.[QUOTE]Also cynicism is not the same as skepticism. Cynicism (in its modern usage) typically involves a negative spin.  "Man donates $50,000 to charity" becomes "Big deal, he probably has billions so it's no big deal to him."[/QUOTE]Yes, there is a difference, but they both contribute to doubt in similar ways. (If you're cynical about the honesty or motivations of the reporter, or the researcher, then you are more likely to be skeptical about his claims.)

  21. dkotschessaa says:

    BTW, when it comes to medical stuff, i find that I'm able to develop an opinion by reading a few studies about effectiveness, despite the fact that I don't have a medical background.  Again, a small amount of quantitative literacy comes into play here.   Was it tested? Was there a control group? Peer reviewed? Double blind?  How big was the sample?   I don't need to know the mechanics of the drug.. just "is there some probability this will work, and does it outweigh the potential complications?"

  22. dkotschessaa says:

    [QUOTE="stevendaryl, post: 5643514, member: 372855"]To broaden the discussion about an informed public slightly, it's interesting to consider that the flip side of believing fake news is disbelieving real news. Those two seem like opposites–extreme gullibility on the one hand, and extreme cynicism on the other. But they work together (sometimes within the same person) to make the public uninformed. The problem is that it is very difficult for the layman to know what information is authoritative and what is not. You could take the point of view that we should be skeptical of everything, but I don't see how that is a practical answer. If my doctor tells me that taking a certain drug will save my life, I don't have the training or the time to do my own research and find out if that's really true. I could Google for the drug on the internet, and see if my doctor's opinion seems to be the consensus, but that doesn't really tell me whether it's true, or not, unless I have some confidence in medical consensus. The world is an incredibly complicated place, and we don't personally have the time or ability to understand it without relying on others.[/QUOTE]Skeptical doesn't mean you don't believe anything.  It just means you don't believe anything without evidence and good argument.  The bolder the claim, the higher the demand should be on the reasoning and evidence.  If the story says "man hit by car walking down the street" I think this is fairly plausible and I'm not going to run to the named intersection looking for the blood stains.  If the article says "man stumbles into a black hole created by grad students in university parking lot" then I'm going to be doing some fact checking. (Actually I wouldn't believe that at all, but I'm exaggerating a bit!)Also cynicism is not the same as skepticism. Cynicism (in its modern usage) typically involves a negative spin.  "Man donates $50,000 to charity" becomes "Big deal, he probably has billions so it's no big deal to him."-Dave K

  23. stevendaryl says:

    To broaden the discussion about an informed public slightly, it's interesting to consider that the flip side of believing fake news is disbelieving real news. Those two seem like opposites–extreme gullibility on the one hand, and extreme cynicism on the other. But they work together (sometimes within the same person) to make the public uninformed. The problem is that it is very difficult for the layman to know what information is authoritative and what is not. You could take the point of view that we should be skeptical of everything, but I don't see how that is a practical answer. If my doctor tells me that taking a certain drug will save my life, I don't have the training or the time to do my own research and find out if that's really true. I could Google for the drug on the internet, and see if my doctor's opinion seems to be the consensus, but that doesn't really tell me whether it's true, or not, unless I have some confidence in medical consensus. The world is an incredibly complicated place, and we don't personally have the time or ability to understand it without relying on others.

  24. dkotschessaa says:

    [QUOTE="fresh_42, post: 5642989, member: 572553"]But neither does the simple claim thatThis might apply to media like FOX news, The Sun or similar with an automatic high demand, but I doubt that this simple rule of economy also applies to markets with lower demands without adjustments in form of restrictions or initial values. Adam Smith isn't the cure for everything.[/QUOTE]No, it definitely applies to all outlets great and small.  Real news is boring.  Actual politics is boring. Most actual day to day science is boring, tedious, slow work. Weather is boring until there's another snowpacolypse or hurricaine.   Business news is really, really boring.  But we have a 24/7 news cycle and need to keep the shrinking attention span of the US audience engaged, sell papers, sell commercial TV time, etc.  Journalism is without any doubt, written with the the same over the top, superficial and cliched mentality of a J.J. Abrams movie.  -Dave K

  25. john101 says:

    I don't seek to stay informed except in the particular things I'm personally interested in like real life real time matters like 'is it  so quiet because it's a public holiday' or 'what was that noise', why is there no '?' available' and so on.I live in a relatively quiet little town outback. Whatever things I get informed in are a result of people mentioning them in conversations. The beauty out here is that if it's not the weather or the state of farming there is generally little else talked about. I have one friend (who knows I don't want to be informed) who has sometimes great difficulty not informing me but generally manages.For science news I find this forum enough.

  26. mfb says:

    [QUOTE="ZapperZ, post: 5643013, member: 6230"]They ALL had different answers EXCEPT for the most important part, which was the verification of the magnetic field, which was the whole point of the publication that was cited.[/QUOTE]Wendelstein did more than checking the magnetic field already, and without a scientific education it is hard to follow the details of that. "Wendelstein tests things about fusion, they did some tests of their new machine, the tests were successful" is already something correct to take away.Much better than people asking about the "new [elementary] particle we found at the LHC last year". No, we did not find a new particle, there was just some statistical fluctuation that sometimes got misreported as new particle. And I don't even want to remember how the OPERA results got misreported.

  27. Greg Bernhardt says:

    [QUOTE="john101, post: 5643032, member: 606835"]Anyway, the lack of news has made me fitter, healthier and happier with a greater enthusiasm for life. I don't think ignorance in this way is bliss but it is way more amusing.[/QUOTE]How do you stay informed?

  28. john101 says:

    I'm engaged in a long term experiment. About eight years ago I started to stop reading newspapers and watching tv. It was difficult at first, I kept sneaking peeks at headlines in shops and reading things in waiting rooms.I had become very cynical about 'news' as a result of a long term study of recent history. I began to wonder what it would be like to have lived at a time without instant news.Finally about a year ago I completely stopped reading any newspaper or watching any tv including any online news article unless it is absolutely avoidable.For example I had no idea who had won the election in the US until a recent topic here in PF. I still have no idea which party rules at home in Australia. (there's a clue for 'all around the world'.) Sooner or later someone will mention it in a conversation.I expected in joining a science forum I'd be 'safe'. It's very interesting to see that even here there is a real concern about news reporting re science, fact v fiction. I guess I've always had a deep trust in science and scientists.Anyway, the lack of news has made me fitter, healthier and happier with a greater enthusiasm for life. I don't think ignorance in this way is bliss but it is way more amusing.

  29. ZapperZ says:

    [QUOTE="mfb, post: 5642955, member: 405866"]A nice article!I'm not sure if Wendelstein was the best example:That is true: It is a research reactor designed to test the plasma. It had test plasmas already. Now they are installing a better divertor, with the aim to increase the plasma pressure and pulse duration afterwards. At no point do the articles claim that the reactor would have had fusion reactions or other similar wrong things. Calling Wendelstein 7-X a "fusion reactor" is misleading, but that is done by the scientific community as well.[/quote]I disagree, because you are reading it through your own eyes and through your own understanding.I gave the two web articles to 3 friends who are not scientists, but neither are they uneducated. I asked them what they understood out of it. They ALL had different answers EXCEPT for the most important part, which was the verification of the magnetic field, which was the whole point of the publication that was cited. In other words, these articles are about anything BUT the main story, which was buried deep inside layers and layers of sexier diversions.You are welcome to try this out for yourself on your unsuspecting friends.The point here is not what physicists or scientists, or experts can gain out of this. These news summaries were not made for them. They were written in a simple-enough language for the general public to digest. If they missed the actual point that was being reported, then these articles are not doing what they were supposed to.[quote]I have seen far worse news on similar websites.[/quote]And so have I. But this was the latest one that got my goat and the one that was finally the impetus for me to write about it.Zz.

  30. fresh_42 says:

    [QUOTE="mfb, post: 5642979, member: 405866"]But even then there are many things that can influence the success of a newspaper, reducing that to a single number does not work.[/QUOTE]But neither does the simple claim that [QUOTE="mfb, post: 5642955, member: 405866"]Journalism adapts to whatever the target audience wants to read.[/QUOTE]This might apply to media like FOX news, The Sun or similar with an automatic high demand, but I doubt that this simple rule of economy also applies to markets with lower demands without adjustments in form of restrictions or initial values. Adam Smith isn't the cure for everything.

  31. mfb says:

    Circulation goes down for all newspapers. This is a general trend, in the last years mainly due to the internet. To start a comparison, you would have to normalize the copies sold by the overall number of newspapers sold. But even then there are many things that can influence the success of a newspaper, reducing that to a single number does not work.

  32. fresh_42 says:

    [QUOTE="mfb, post: 5642973, member: 405866"]What does that plot show, apart from the general decline of printed newspapers and some different historic development of those two particular newspapers?[/QUOTE]At least for one of the magazines I can tell that quality deteriorated in the last decade. So less quality doesn't imply better order figures. Thus it is at least questionable, that people like to read bad journalism.

  33. fresh_42 says:

    [QUOTE="mfb, post: 5642955, member: 405866"]Journalism adapts to whatever the target audience wants to read. If many people prefer fake/misleading news over actual news (for whatever reason: sounds better, fits better to their world view, …), then they get fake/misleading news.[/QUOTE]Sounds a bit like the hen-egg-paradox. I seriously doubt, that worse journalism leads to better orders.Source: http://meedia.de/2016/02/12/historische-analyse-spiegel-und-stern-im-66-jahre-auflagentrend-rekorde-mit-kennedy-und-dem-irak-krieg/And it doesn't look better for the NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/03/business/media/new-york-times-co-reports-an-advertising-drop-though-digital-results-grew.html?_r=0

  34. dkotschessaa says:

    I'd make the case for teaching basic numeracy here, and by that I mean statistics, and not even the hard stuff.  What I mean is, even if you are not versed in a particular subject, it is very easy to see when a study is done badly if you know the basics of sample size, various kinds of bias, correlation does not imply causation, etc.  Some of the best insights I got about critical reading were probability and statistics books written for a lay audience.  –Dave K

  35. mfb says:

    A nice article!I'm not sure if Wendelstein was the best example:[quote]People will think that the stellerator is now working and they’re moving on to the next phase.[/quote]That is true: It is a research reactor designed to test the plasma. It had test plasmas already. Now they are installing a better divertor, with the aim to increase the plasma pressure and pulse duration afterwards. At no point do the articles claim that the reactor would have had fusion reactions or other similar wrong things. Calling Wendelstein 7-X a "fusion reactor" is misleading, but that is done by the scientific community as well.I have seen far worse news on similar websites.[QUOTE="fresh_42, post: 5642886, member: 572553"]IMO weak journalism is the real danger to our modern democracies.[/QUOTE]Journalism adapts to whatever the target audience wants to read. If many people prefer fake/misleading news over actual news (for whatever reason: sounds better, fits better to their world view, …), then they get fake/misleading news.

  36. Greg Bernhardt says:

    [QUOTE="JorisL, post: 5642936, member: 340962"]This needs to be trending all over the internet.[/QUOTE]Share with your friends and social media links below the article content :)

  37. JorisL says:

    This needs to be trending all over the internet. And mandatory literature for any high school student say older than 14.One thing I wonder is how to remedy especially the second part of[quote]But how many of the members of the general public will (i) do that and (ii) be able to understand the technical details of the paper?[/quote]We all know media outlets won't start hiring (possibly on a freelance basis) professionals to create articles suitable for the general public. Simply because its easier to use their full time "journalists" to create some flashy content.

  38. fresh_42 says:

    [QUOTE="Greg Bernhardt, post: 5642844, member: 1"]You are not the average reader :)[/QUOTE]I've never before read so much "quotes" of questionable content than in this year's campaigns. Even if I didn't search for their origin doesn't mean I believed them. Mostly I took it as an entertainment.IMO weak journalism is the real danger to our modern democracies. I really believe that a democracy depends on educated voters. We've experienced where a "public vote" can get us to. It frightens me to see former confidential magazines deteriorate and mass media making opinions. I'm not sure whether it really got worse the recent two decades or whether I'm simply complaining by "the good old times".The more I appreciate the lonesome callers for references on PF, although I sometimes think, a negative answer would have been shorter. At least this habit shows future generations of scientists how to do it properly. Too many faked reports have already damaged science: copied thesis, the famous autism-MMR link and probably many more.

  39. jim mcnamara says:

    My field, Biology, is the worst for 'post-truth' news claims using weak references to journal articles.   Nutrition claims and medical breakthroughs constitute an almost daily blitz of poorly informed hype and or blatant advertising claims. I feel the fake news thing overlaps largely into the 'post-truth' thing:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-truth_politics– with the exception that a lot of fake news is self-serving from the writers point of view.In the case of bad science reporting, it can well be a writer trying to keep a job by generating interest in his/her column, for example. So called 'slant' on a topic.  Call it fake news, post-truth, or 'tribal science' (e.g., anti-vaxxers) .  Or maybe religion as [USER=405866]@mfb[/USER] feels this stuff sometimes amounts to…. Name your poison.Edit oops [USER=124113]@Ygggdrasil[/USER] beat me to it.  And did a better job.

  40. Ygggdrasil says:

    This also happens a lot in biology.  For example, Science has a nice news story covering how one small developmental biology paper got overblown by the media, with headlines that were completely wrong:[quote]So, without further ado, the recipe for transforming a modest developmental biology paper into a blockbuster story, as it played out yesterday in the media:

    1. Take one jargon-filled paper title: "Mice produced by mitotic reprogramming of sperm injected into haploid parthenogenotes"
    2. Distill its research into more accessible language. Text of Nature Communications press release: Mouse sperm injected into a modified, inactive embryo can generate healthy offspring, shows a paper in Nature Communications. And add a lively headline: "Mouse sperm generate viable offspring without fertilization in an egg"
    3. Enlist an organization to invite London writers to a press briefing with paper’s authors.
      Headline of Science Media Centre press release: "Making embryos from a non-egg cell"
    4. Have same group distribute a laudatory quote from well-known and respected scientist:
      “[It’s] a technical tour de force.”
    5. Bake for 24 hours and present without additional reporting. Headline in The Telegraph: "Motherless babies possible as scientists create live offspring without need for female egg," and in The Guardian: "Skin cells might be used instead of eggs to make embryos, scientists say."

    [/quote]http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/09/motherless-babies-how-create-tabloid-science-headline-five-easy-stepsThe path from research paper to press release to news story is essentially a bad game of telephone that distorts scientific findings at each step.

  41. fresh_42 says:

    [QUOTE="Greg Bernhardt, post: 5642739, member: 1"]I'm willing to bet extremely few people outside the relevant specialty give any time to investigating sources.[/QUOTE]I have read a quotation posted by my nephew on the US election, determined to influence opinions. As I've looked up the sources of that article, I've found the first seven sources have been a self-quotation of formerly posted statements and the eighth has been a FOX news report …It's not that difficult nowadays to find the sources. I liked this a lot:[QUOTE="mfb, post: 5637617, member: 405866"]Flow chart for claims of major proofs:Is it sent to one of the leading journals?– No: It is not a valid proof– Yes: Did it pass peer review?—–In progress: It is probably not a valid proof—–No: It is not a valid proof—–Yes: It gets interesting. Did a mathematician find a flaw within 2 years?——–Yes: It is not a valid proof.——–No: It is probably a valid proof.[/QUOTE]

  42. stevendaryl says:

    [QUOTE="Greg Bernhardt, post: 5642739, member: 1"]People don't have time to fully read anything these days. Marketers know this extremely well and craft catchy and sometimes down right deceiving headlines. It's the problem with news information being a business. Social media has made it worse.[/QUOTE]Yeah, there is a lot of intentionally misleading headlines out there. But even when the headline is not intentionally misleading, the reader can get the wrong impression if he only reads the headline (or the headline and the opening paragraph).

  43. Greg Bernhardt says:

    [QUOTE="stevendaryl, post: 5642733, member: 372855"]You're absolutely right, that people should not be satisfied with a news story about some event without checking into sources.[/QUOTE]I'm willing to bet extremely few people outside the relevant specialty give any time to investigating sources. [QUOTE="stevendaryl, post: 5642733, member: 372855"]people come away with a false impression just because they only read the headline.[/QUOTE]People don't have time to fully read anything these days. Marketers know this extremely well and craft catchy and sometimes down right deceiving headlines. It's the problem with new information being a business.

  44. fresh_42 says:

    The best part of it is your example:[Quote]Wendelstein 7-X is the world’s largest fusion device of the stellarator type. Its objective is to investigate the suitability of this type for a power plant. [/Quote] (Source: http://www.ipp.mpg.de/w7x – Homepage of the Max-Planck institute in Greifswald, which performs Wendelstein 7-X, including an email address for questions.)This statement includes the fact, that the device isn't supposed to be a prototype of a functioning nuclear reactor, rather a scientific tool to investigate the possibility of a stellarator compared to (the pulsed operation of) a tokamak.

  45. stevendaryl says:

    You're absolutely right, that people should not be satisfied with a news story about some event without checking into sources. However, it's often the case that confusion about what happened are actually cleared up in the original article itself, and people come away with a false impression just because they only read the headline.

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