ten reviews & commentaries on the psychology of misinformation & the role of fake news in modern science were published this month. as a whole, they are a fabulous, enlightening resource - a must for your summer holiday reading list  

original articles: West & , Bergstrom, 2021 (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), Yeo & , McKasy, 2021 (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), Pennycook & , Rand, 2021 (Trends in Cognitive Sciences),

this story was in episode 9 #fakenews #backfire #scicomm #infodemic

the error bar says

perhaps stimulated by the departure of The Orange One from the highest office in the world, ten scientific papers on the psychology of fake news & misinformation were published this month. nine of these were part of a special colloquium in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA; the tenth was in the psychology journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences

i would recommend reading all ten, but i'll pick out the best bits from three

West & Bergstrom compare misinformation & fake news in the wider world to the processes & practices typical of modern science. the comparison is illuminating but not flattering for science

Yeo & McKasy discuss the roles of emotion & humour in science education, in fact-checking & countering misinformation in the public domain. they focus on the role of humorous science posts on Twitter

Pennycook & Rand in Trends in Cognitive Sciences ask why people fall for fake news. they conclude that it's less about their political beliefs or desire to misinform, rather it's a lack of reflection, reasoning or prior knowledge

are we drowning in misinformation?

yes & no

this brilliant series of reviews - 100 pages of science facts - poses many challenges for science communication & understanding in an information ecosystem dominated by the world wild west. so many challenges, that seem so big, as to be almost overwhelming

but there is hope. the reasons to be cheerful are

first, that the vast majority of news & information consumed by the general public is not fake. perhaps 1-15% of the news food eaten by the general public is fake or comes from unreliable sources

second, well-known phenomena like the 'backfire effect' - the idea that counteracting misinformation with facts & logic will 'backfire' only strengthening your audiences' false beliefs - is, itself, an often-mis-interpreted phenomenon. the backfire effect was only present in 2 of the original 5 experiments & follow-up work has either failed to confirm it or has substantially modified it

third, there is a lot to learn from these reviews: narrative, emotion, humour, inoculation, pre-bunking & the communication of corrective messages by well-trusted, liked & elite sources can all turn the misinformation tide

there's even a study showing that adding a laughter track to a stand-up science comedian's routine increases their likeability & their perceived expertise

the error bar is here to burst science news bubbles [LAUGH], dehorn science unicorns [LAUGH] & point to the naughty bits of naked science emperors [LAUGH]


the infodemic tide of misinformation may seem overwhelming, but the power & promise of science is overwhelminger. done well, science will win. join the information crusade