I remember growing up and the internet was just starting to make an impact in schools. We were required to have both paper sources and online sources for our projects in junior high school. We were taught that there is a lot of garbage information out there, a lot of it looking like super basic power points slapped onto a page that takes five minutes to load on Netscape and Yahoo! was still the number one search engine.
I remember being taught to verify the validity of my sources. One of the ways was to check if it was a .com, .edu, .gov, etc. site. Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy anymore. The internet has grown exponentially since I was 13 years old and it’s hard to know what is real and what is fake. What was supported in one journal and then debunked in the next.
As I studied molecular bio and biotech in college, I was trained to question everything. I was trained that just because I read it, doesn’t make it true. Also, that a title does not give the whole picture! How do we beat the misinformation epidemic that we are suffering? We are seeing it in science, politics, health, be it vaccines, climate change, or presidential quotes.
Social Scientist Sander van der Linden from the University of Cambridge concluded that
“Preemptively “warning people about politically motivated attempts to spread misinformation helps promote and protect (‘inoculate’) public attitudes about the scientific consensus,” the researchers concluded.
The idea seems simple, but if people take in information with a bit of skepticism, they are less likely to buy into false news and might even be more likely to takes steps to check other sources to see the validity of the information.
We’re a long way from my junior high school projects, and the idea of not believing everything you read and having a little skepticism needs to return.
- van der Linden,A. Leiserowitz,S. Rosenthal, E. Maibach, Global Challenges 2017, 1600008.