Fake news…it’s a big problem. So what can we do to combat it?
I’m brought back to high school English class when we first learned about the three artistic proofs: ethos, pathos, and logos. You may have a sense for what they are even if you can’t recall high school English class. Think ethic (ethos), pathetic (pathos) and logic (logos). The first method of persuasion, ethos, focuses on convincing an audience by using the author’s credibility and/or character. The emotional appeal, pathos, persuades using an audience’s emotion. Finally, the appeal to logic, logos, draws on an audience’s logic and/or reason. Now if you ask me, we seem to be ranking pathos, then ethos, then logos when it should be logos, then ethos, then pathos. You get the idea. We are reading the click-bait, emotionally-appealing headline and sometimes stopping there. On a good day, we are looking at the name of the website, journal, etc., searching for some credibility. Rarely are we investigating the research, let alone reading the whole article. Yes, I say we because I too have been overwhelmed and overcome with fake news online, in the news, and on social media.
I think we all have a part to play in disrupting and combating fake news, but it won’t necessarily be easy. I’ve been enjoying blogging as an opportunity to research topics in higher education that interest me, but at the same time I have found it very stressful and time-consuming to research the topics and sources of information. Above all, I believe we have a duty to not perpetuate and not distribute false information. Given the abundance of information online this is not easy. Even true data can be manipulated to tell different stories. One thing we can all do is ask questions. This is a skill that I have developed over the course of my education but didn’t fully appreciate until grad school. I read the occasional scientific paper in undergrad but viewed them more like I would a textbook (not that textbooks can’t be biased and/or incorrect), correct, definite, and final sources of information. It wasn’t until I started grad school that I started to understand the true meaning and value of the peer review process. Not all science is created equal and we must read papers with a critical eye because they are not always correct and/or ethical. Check out my other blog post on research integrity.
I’ve mostly been talking about fake news through the lens of a scientist. Of course, not all fake news revolves around science. However, I think we can all take a more scientific approach, using logos, to evaluate news. That’s not to say ethos and pathos aren’t important, too. It is critical to know the credibility of the author, not just to accept or reject the information completely, but to understand subtle spins on the data that may be due to bias. Overall, combating fake news starts with one rule: think before you share.