Debunking Denialism

Fighting pseudoscience and quackery with reason and evidence.

Tag Archives: Alex Jones

“Alternative Facts” Are Really Just Misinformation

Alternative facts

During the 2016 Presidential Election process, there was a near complete disregard for what was true (post-truth) and a massive surge in the promotion of false and misleading news items that pretended to the true (fake news). This was further amplified by the viral spread of sensationalist nonsense on social media. Even worse, many of those systems were run by mindless algorithms designed to monetize individual preferences and feed their users information that conformed to their own ideological biases (social media filter bubble). Together, this has become known as the misinformation wars.

Many of these things are not new and has plagued scientists, doctors, skeptics and other science advocates for many years. However, there was decidedly a massive surge that happened in recent years. People and groups that promote pseudoscience and bigotry managed to manipulate the mainstream media into giving them a ton attention and free publicity. These groups could then counter by spreading demonstrably false narratives in their filter bubbles to build what was and is essentially an anti-reality grassroot movement.

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What Will the Trump Presidency Mean for Scientific Skepticism?

Trump election results

Donald Trump has now been elected as the next President of the United States and Hillary Clinton has conceded the election to him. He won by an estimated 289 electoral votes to the 218 of Clinton. This might slightly change over the coming days as the vote counting is complete, but it is clear that Trump has won. Most polls and models predicted that Clinton would win by a small margin, but they were mistaken. This is partly because of the flawed methodology and partly because the far right is often underestimated in pre-election polls.

What will this mean for science and scientific skepticism? Two major groups of issues is that Trump is against vaccines and climate change, and has also promoted pseudoscientific bigotry against ethnic minorities, immigrants, women and people with disabilities. This post will examine some of the potential consequences and impacts of a Trump presidency for science and scientific skepticism.

Issues

Here are some of the issues that will face science and scientific skepticism during the Trump presidency. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but it gives a flavor for the breath and depths of some of the problems we are likely to now face.

Vaccines: Trump has stated on numerous occasions that he thinks that vaccines cause autism. In particular, he has regurgitated the myth of “too many, too soon”. This might have implications for how much resources is being spent on vaccine development, distribution and vaccination rates.

Climate change: Trump believes that climate change is just a hoax invented by the Chinese to make American suffer economically. His rejection of climate science can potentially have disastrous consequences, both when it comes to the Paris agreement and our chance at preventing or mitigating climate change consequences.

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How to Avoid Falling for Bullshit on the Internet

Bullshit

The Internet is so vast that you can find just about anything online, no matter how unreasonable and bizarre it is. So employing an efficient filter is often necessary to help to tell fact from fiction and to prevent people from inadvertently spreading nonsense because viral stories exploit your biases in an effort to get you to click like, share or retweet.

Are you tired of seeing stupid stories about the end of the world, how some new kind of cabbage can cure all cancers, that coughing prevents death from heart failure or any of the other thousands of inane viral stories being shared on social media? This is a simple introductory guide on how to avoid falling for bullshit on the Internet.

Wait for more facts to emerge

One of the biggest risks for falling for bullshit on the Internet is reacting too fast. When a new viral story or video hit, it is often shared thousands and thousands of times within a short period of time. Videos are made about it, Facebook posts are written about it, Tweets and retweets spread all over the Internet.

Keep your head cool, acknowledge the existence of the story to yourself, but do not fall for emotional manipulation that begs you to click “share” straight away. Do not share things that appeal to you if you have not fact-checked them sufficiently. The only thing that such actions accomplish is that you are spreading the nonsense around, and risk looking foolish if it turns out to be fake.

Check Snopes and other skeptical sources

Not everyone has the time or interest to fact-check stories in great detail. That is fine, people have other interests. However, there are some fact-checking methods that is both straightforward and fast. Search for the story on Google and add the word “Snopes” afterwards e.g. “obama muslim snopes” and you will end up here. Snopes is a website that critically analyzes questionable claims on the Internet and is a great resource for quickly checking the truth of a viral story. Sometimes, the story is too new or too uncommon for Snopes to have picked it up.

Snopes is not the only website that does fact-checking on the Internet. It is also possible to search for the story on Google and add the word “skeptic”, “fake”, “debunked” or similar words in order to find critical voices. Now, do not automatically trust these critics, because they too can be considerably mistaken. Instead, try to find out which is more reasonable: the viral story or the critics.

For specific claims, such as medicine, add words such as “CDC”, “WHO”, ” to get reliable medical websites. If the viral story makes claims about organization, such as “NASA”, go ahead and add that word too, or use “site:nasa.gov” to see if the NASA website has any information about it.

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