Factcheck.org has been keeping tabs on prevaricators for 15 years. Concentrating on the United States, Factcheck.org is a party-agnostic watchdog on the words of those who would put themselves out ahead of the rest of us. It should be safe to assume that they should be at least as accountable as the rest of us, so Factcheck.org holds them up for our scrutiny. This year it celebrates its fifteenth anniversary.
Factcheck.org exposes the false statements of liberals and conservatives alike. If these falsehoods are taken by the media and turned into fake news, that is exposed on the Factcheck site, regardless of the politics of the perpetrator. Whether the source is credulous and naively repeating something they heard, or cynically propagating lies, or simply unable to stop themselves from saying that which they would like to be true, their words are held up to the actinic light of day.
Factcheck.org has been keeping track of this deluge of deception for fifteen years now, and they have compiled a collection of the most egregious. They’ve published a convenient list of whoppers for 2018. Not surprisingly, a certain politician once again tops the list.
I’ll just let you check out the whoppers for yourself.
Andres at TechnoLlama has written a blog post that explains how the internet is making us stupid, and it’s not just because we spend too much time on it. I’ll put a few quotes from his article here, and then you can follow the link to read the whole thing.
The flat Earth phenomenon is just the tip of the iceberg. We seem to be regressing in almost all aspects of knowledge and public discourse, from political discourse to climate change, easily-accessible and authoritative information is swept away by a torrent of fake news and falsehoods.
… media platforms have been designed to cater to what they think we like …
… social media presence is confused with expertise.
… in the era of Brexit and Trump, all pretence that reporting truth is an achievable goal has disappeared.
In some debates, even a mention of any traditional media source will be met with derision and incredulity.
So, is the internet making us stupid, or is it merely exposing our propensity for stupidity?
FactCheck is a website that checks claims made by politicians and others to see if they hold up under scrutiny. In this era of fake news and other lies, they help us to see what’s true and what isn’t.
In our roundup of 2016 claims, we hypothesized that SciCheck would have no dearth of false and misleading claims to cover in 2017. That proved true.
Oddly, the politicians and other liars don’t seem to be changing their behavior. They continue to say whatever they want regardless of whether it’s going to be publicly exposed as false. I guess that’s because the people who are inclined to believe them will do so even when their mendacity is clearly demonstrated.
In July, Rep. Lamar Smith, the chairman of the House science committee, said climate change “alarmists” ignore the “positive impacts” of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, including increasing food production and quality. But the net effect of higher CO2 levels on agriculture is likely negative, especially in the future.
In February, Trump claimed there’s been a “tremendous” increase in autism in children in the United States. There has been a large increase in the reported cases of autism. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the increase is due to a broadening of autism’s definition and greater efforts in diagnosis, in addition to some actual increase in the number of individuals who have the disorder.
In May, Obama falsely said that Let’s Move, a project of former First Lady Michelle Obama, “helped bring down America’s obesity rates for our youngest kids for the first time in 30 years.” Research shows the obesity rate for 2- to 5-year-olds has been decreasing since 2004 – way before the Let’s Move project began.
We might continue to be accosted by people trying to spin the facts, but we have FactCheck and others watching out for us now. Look at the rest of their best of 2017.
Fake news is in the news these days. It’s a problem because of the gullibility and credulousness of so many people. There are those who trust any source that gives the appearance of authority. And there is the ever-present problem of people believing anything that seems to confirm their biases, either supporting what they believe, or criticizing what they dislike. This is pretty bad but normally it wouldn’t be much of a problem. Just another case of liars taking advantage of fools. But this time around it is out there in such volume, and is said to have so much influence, that people are rightfully beginning to worry.
But that’s just the news. At worst, we might have to put up with foreign countries or malevolent corporations affecting democratic elections. Oh, and the disenfranchisement of voting citizens. And I guess the serious erosion of trust in democratic institutions and processes. But that’s just politics, right? There’s always been lying and cheating there. No, the really worrisome fakery is taking place in science. Just as there is an increase in fake news, so there is an increase in fake science.
We’re used to corporations and their loyal politicians invoking false or purchased science to protect their profits and privileges. From tobacco to fossil fuels, we’ve been repeatedly reassured that no one has proven that they’re harmful. So maybe people die, or the environment suffers, but that’s just business as usual. We’re used to it. There’s never been a question about the integrity of the scientific community. Just a few individuals who weren’t seriously troubled by their consciences. But now things have changed. Now people can pay to publish their fake science right in the scientific journals. Those organs which were once the barrier to false and frivolous claims. Which set the bar of credibility for those claims, and whose stringent rules of review ensured that most of what they published was worthy of our attention.
Still, everyone knew who the pay-to-publish journals were. It was easy to keep track of them and to treat their content with greater scepticism. And they were actually a good outlet for honest scientists who couldn’t make the cut at the traditional journals, if only because they don’t have enough space for everything. But lately it’s worse. Lately profits have overtaken the dissemination of knowledge as the motive for publication, and some of these journals have begun to publish everything in the quest for revenue. Now anyone with an axe to grind can publish “scientific” papers as proof. Smoking is good for you? Pollution is good for the environment? Creationism is science? Of course. It says so right in this paper published by this prestigious journal.
Okay, so maybe there are a few crooked publishers out there. Surely the legitimate ones will balance them out. Right? Don’t count on it. In Canada, two publishers of prominent and respected medical journals have recently been bought out by a fake-science-for-cash publisher. Oh, they’ve insisted that they will maintain high standards, but they’ve been caught out by a test paper submitted by the Ottawa Citizen. They presented a paper that made no sense, was highly plagiarized, and, to put it simply, was awful. It passed the fake journal’s supposed peer review and got published. I wonder if that review consisted of sending an invoice.
It’s hard to know if the paper you’re reading is genuine science or not. It’s hard to keep track of which journals are still honest. And this doesn’t just affect the readers of the journals. It’s also a problem for honest scientists who want to submit their work.
Fake news is a problem, my earlier facetiousness aside, but fake science is at least as much of a problem. We need to deal with both of them.