Extra! Extra! A handy guide to the normal fake news: Surviving information overload

From Denyse O’Leary at MercatorNet:


10. Studies show…

There are now millions of studies in the world and most of us can analyze very few of them. Many of these studies are of poor quality, especially in contentious fields such as social sciences and nutrition. But these are the very fields whose findings are widely touted in popular media. When treated as some kind of truth, they are a form of fake news.

Jonny Anomaly and Brian Boutwell lament at Quillette:

Chances are you’ve found yourself in a heated conversation among a group of friends, family, or colleagues when someone throws down the gauntlet: “Actually, studies show…” Some nod in silent agreement, others check their text messages, and finally someone changes the subject.

It’s hard to know what to say when people cite scientific studies to prove their point. Sometimes we know the study and its relative merits. But most of the time we just don’t know enough to confirm or refute the statement that the study is supposed to support. We are floating in a sea of information, and all we can do is flounder around for the nearest buoy to support a view that’s vaguely related to the conversation. More.

The fact that we are not able to analyze the studies does not obligate us to accept the information provided as a truth. Not only can a study be wrong, so can dozens or hundreds of them. Without further information, we should just use our own best judgment while avoiding useless social conflict.

Another type of fake news is insinuation. If media frequently hint that the mayor is suspected of corruption, they may never need to defend their claims. They needn’t fear libel either if they make no specific accusation. They merely plant the idea and repeat it until it festers. Then there is the fake news practice is treating only the figures on one side of a controversy as experts. The ones on other side are mere dissidents, regardless of the state of the evidence. Readers who examine news stories thoughtfully will doubtless come up with many other categories of fake news as well. It’s fun, usually free, and any number can play.

See also: What can we do about fake news that would not diminish real news? Critics of ‘fake news’ should go to China — only the government has the right to post fake news.

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