Skip to main content

Fake News: Science Edition: Home

This guide provides resources on the types of fake science news circulating the internet and some best practices to identify good science news
picture of microphone with text reading podcasting at marston lets build something together

Have you ever been unsure of the reliability of a science news story you found on Facebook?

Have you every Googled a science topic only to be befuddled by the credibility of your search results?

Fake News: Science Edition is here to help! We do are best to help explain the types of bad science news on the Internet and give you the tools to identify reliable science news sources.

Fake News can enter the public realm for a number of different reasons. Explore three common paths for Fake News:
Use this checklist to determine if your science news passes the credibility test.
If you want to learn more about fake news and misinformation, this is the place.

Types

Fake News can enter the public realm for a number of different reasons. Here are three common paths for Fake News.

orange open lock icon

Predatory Open Access Journals

Resources
Cabell's Whitelist (Subscription required) is the best resource to find information on predatory journals. However, users need a subscription to access it, which makes it less than ideal.

Beall's List of Predatory Journals and Publishers is a free resource that has created a list of predatory journals and publishers. The site also have some good resources to read more about the issue of predatory open access journals. However, Beall's list is not perfect. To learn more about the criticisms levied against Beall's list see "Beyond Beall’s List: Better understanding predatory publishers"

Directory of Open Access Journals is a free resource that lists reliable open access journals. The DOAJ seal is the standard of credibility for all open access journals. However, the DOAJ seal is often claimed by journals even if they have not been awarded it. Users concerned with a journal's credibility should always check the DOAJ site, rather than take the journal at its word.

Examples
I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here's How. by John Bohannon. This is a good article explaining how biologist and science journalist John Bohannon used a predatory open access journal, International Archives of Medicine, to get his bunk research published. Bohannon's research was retracted from International Archives of Medicine following the publication of the article in io9.

A paper by Maggie Simpson and Edna Krabappel was accepted by two scientific journals discusses a paper submitted that "has a totally incoherent, science-esque text written by SCIgen, a random journal article generator. via Vox



Magnifying glass icon

Retractions

Resources
Retraction Watch is a blog dedicated to tracking and writing about retracted articles in academic journals. The creators of Retraction Watch have also created a Retraction Watch Retraction Database to help users search for retractions. The database is still in formation but functional.

Examples
RETRACTED: Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children is one of the most popular examples of a retracted article run amok. The retracted study linked vaccinations with autism in children.

RETRACTED: When contact changes minds: An experiment on transmission of support for gay equality is another popular example of research gaining media traction, only to be retracted. This study was profiled in an episode of the popular radio show This American Life prior to retraction.



newspaper toilet paper icon

Media Miscommunication

Science news can be difficult to write. Sometimes, miscommunication occurs. Here are a couple of explanations as to why that happens:


"Collectively, we agree that scientists need to be good communicators, but communicating science to laypeople is not a trivial task (Racine et al., 2005; Illes et al., 2010; Keehner and Fischer, 2011). Scientific ideas can be complicated and communication of these ideas often becomes mired in discipline-specific jargon and terminology. However, there is often an assumption that because scientists are experts in their field and think clearly, they are also naturally experts at communicating science to laypeople and can communicate effectively (Radford, 2011). There are certainly notable neuroscientists, such as Oliver Sacks and Robert Sapolsky, who have made their work accessible to the public through popular science writing. However, we do not think that these and other scientists who are literary figures in their own right, including Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, E. O. Wilson, and others, should be presented as evidence of scientists’ innate ability to communicate (Radford, 2011). These scientists have honed their communication skills over many years of practice and have sought opportunities for public discourse far beyond the extent of most researchers."

S. E. Brownell, J. V. Price, and L. Steinman, “Science Communication to the General Public: Why We Need to Teach Undergraduate and Graduate Students this Skill as Part of Their Formal Scientific Training,” J. Undergrad. Neurosci. Educ., vol. 12, no. 1, pp. E6–E10, Oct. 2013.

"I have been contributing articles about science to The Times since 2004. For the past four years I’ve written a weekly column called Matter. I usually base my ideas on scientific research that has matured far enough that it is beginning to get published in peer-reviewed journals. The biggest challenge in writing these is that there’s so much data to learn about, to mull and to transform into a narrative that will be compelling to nonexperts."

C. Zimmer, “What’s a Science Reporter to Do When Sound Evidence Isn’t Sound?,” The New York Times, 06-Oct-2017.

Checklist

Use this checklist to determine if your science news passes the credibility test:

Link

Link to original source

Does your source link to the original source?

Good Example
Yellowstone Supervolcano May Rumble to Life Faster Than Thought via National Geographic

  • Links to original research
  • Links to other relevant research

Bad Example
Yellowstone Supervolcano Could Erupt Sooner Than Expected via ExtremeTech.com

  • Does not link to original research
  • Links to another popular article
  • Excessive advertisements

open quote

Interview the researcher

Has the author of your article interviewed the researcher of the study?

Good Example
Where's the Proof That Mindfulness Meditation Works? via Scientific American

  • Interviews the author
  • Quotes and paraphrases the author several times

Bad Example
What is mindfulness? Nobody really knows, and that’s a problem via The Conversation

  • Does not interview any of the authors
  • Provides opinion

closed quote

Consult the field

Has the author of your article consulted other experts in the field?

Good Examples
1. A tech-destroying solar flare could hit Earth within 100 years via New Scientist
2. An Earth-Sized Space Shield to Protect Us From Solar Storms Is Less Crazy Than It Sounds via Gizmodo

  • Interviews unaffiliated experts from the field
  • Unaffiliated expert provides opposing viewpoint

Bad Example
Solar storm could plunge Earth into technological apocalypse, but giant shield might save us all via International Business Times

  • Does not conduct interviews
  • Borrows interviews from other sources

closed quote

Authority

Does the author have the credibility and expertise to be trusted?

Steps to Determining Credibility

  1. Who is the author? The information in the article needs to be assessed for its credibility and reliability. If the author's information is available, move on to the next step. If the author's information is not available, the credibility of the article should be questioned.
  2. What are their credentials? The author's credentials should be assessed by determining their educational background. The author's educational expertise should match the subject of the article. If the expertise does not match, the credibility of the article should be questioned.
  3. What organizations are they affiliated with? The author's current affiliations are important. If they are a scientist, their current employer should be easy to determine. This can give you insight into their expertise. If you cannot locate this information, the credibility of the article should be questioned.

If you have reached the point where you are questioning the credibility of the article, your best option may be to attempt to research the subject and claims of the article on your own. You can apply the same checklist to those searches. Good luck and happy searching!

Resources

Slides for the public program and a list references to help you go deeper.

Fake News: Science Edition

Slides from the public program

Samuel R. Putnam
Engineering Librarian

University of Florida Home Page

This page uses Google Analytics - (Google Privacy Policy)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.