PSA on Bad Science: An EID 100 Project

Little information is far less dangerous when compared to wrong information. However, it is this wrong information that often gets the highest traction. As trending topics are passed down to larger populations, correct information is slowly lost; and it is replaced by what people want to know, but not what they need to know. This is very similar to how search engines like Google work. Examples of such a process would be Chinese whispers and Grapevine information. As news about something is passed from one person to another, it is distorted, and by the time it gets to the last person in line, the whole story is completely changed. On top of that, everyone loves to believe in stories that are too good to be true, which is why media and news outlets often like to sensationalize news scientific discoveries.

Meme generated on imgflip by Monir Riasad Fadle Aziz

The major issue with this is that people are deprived of the information provided by credible science, which makes them victims of bad science; but how would you differentiate between the two? In our project, as demonstrated by the video, the team interviews students from a variety of fields ranging from Engineering all the way to Photography and Communications at Ryerson University to survey their answers to questions that have already been answered with evidence by scientists around the world. Their consents were taken into consideration before the filming.

Team members apart from myself (Monir) include: Noman, Susana, Christina, Michel and Junho.

PSA on Bad Science by Group 2 (Monir, Noman, Susana, Christina, Michel and Junho). Video Site (if link is broken): https://youtu.be/AsIBNtsB7n8

The answers from a majority of the students were astonishing, as they seemed to believe that vaccines caused autism, which is not true. It’s not just them, around 10% of all Americans think that vaccines are unsafe . Similarly, like the majority of the students interviewed, only 48% of the American population believe that climate change is real. Some of the students also believed that detoxification by juices and crystals commonly marketed by various companies worked, the claims to which in reality have no evidence. The only true “detoxifier” in the human body is the liver, and no supplements are required to help with detoxification (Klein and Kiat, 2014).

An explanation to this would be the digital divide, whereby correct scientific information is not easily accessible by everyone, which ultimately leads to information divide. One study showed that the reason behind the divide could very well be language barrier. Of the over 75,000 documents, including journal articles, books and theses, around 35.6% was not in English. The non-English section consisted of Spanish (12.6%), Portuguese (10.3%), simplified Chinese (6%), and French (3%), making them inaccessible to English speakers (or the opposite where Chinese speakers would need to know English to have access to 97% of the world’s scientific data).

Image Source: Frei’s days

The relationship between the divide in the distribution of scientific information and the credibility of sources may be approached with the 3V’s of big data; namely variety, velocity, and volume. When it comes to credible science, variety is very limited, and only testable hypotheses are accepted in peer-reviewed journal articles. On the other hand, articles filled with bad science generally tend to have a wide variety of non-testable and questionable data on platforms such as Facebook, and people want to believe them because it aligns with their beliefs. Bad science spreads like a disease, as it can be quickly generated and shared by anyone with a computer; while good science takes months to years of experimentation, editing and peer-reviewing before the information is released to the public for viewing. In some cases, popular publishing houses like Elsevier lock the information and don’t release them unless the reader is willing to pay ridiculous amounts of money for subscription, which is similar to what scam artists do. As you can see, bad science is a clear winner when it comes to the rate at which it is published, released, and accessed; it directly illustrates a situation whereby a large volume of low quality information is passed around instead of it being the other way around, which is a massive problem.

Much like this highway in England, bad science has no traffic jam (left) when it comes to the flow information, and large volumes of publications happen at high velocity. It is the slow release of information with credible science (right) that makes it less accessible. Image Source: Mirror

There are many possible solutions to this issue; the first being the availability of non-profit organization (NPO) platforms providing simplified digestible scientific information to the public, which would be run by researchers, academic institutes and policy-makers. Instead of publishing only in journals, they can target media sources like TV shows or YouTube, that millions of people often visit. On top of that, they could add in content (such as videos) that comply with the accessibility standards set by the world wide web consortium (W3C) or accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities act (AODA), to gain more traction. The ability for readers to interact with the scientists directly would be amazing, as they would less likely be victims of false news and bad science that way. As viewers, we can also be more pro-active in looking deeper into all the information out there that may be misleading or sound too good to be true.

Real science may be hard to get access to in the present time, but with combined efforts from everyone in the communities, we can change the future of the flow of information in this sector and eventually eradicate the existing digital divide. We hope that the project by our group helps to make a positive impact on the lives of those who seek valuable information and the truth about the world.

Reference(s):

Klein, A. V., & Kiat, H. (2015). Detox diets for toxin elimination and weight management: a critical review of the evidence. Journal of human nutrition and dietetics, 28(6), 675–686.