Help!! How do I figure out if a news story is SOLID or SENSATIONAL?

Uncertainty and Misinformation

A: We’re all fighting an “infodemic” along with this pandemic. Here are three evidence-based tips for practicing INFORMATION HYGIENE:

(1) Demand extraordinary vetting for extraordinary claims;

(2) Proactively seek out competing views;

(3) Amplify good information, and cut off the oxygen to the toxic stuff.

We’ve received many inquiries this week about sniffing out misinformation – a topic near and dear to the Nerdy Girls’ hearts. Here are “Lindsey’s Laws” for news diligence. We’ll have more posts on this topic from other members of the Nerdy Girl team over the next few weeks.

First: In the words of the late, great astronomer Carl Sagan “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” If a finding is way out of the mainstream and/or sounds too good or bad to be true it’s important to make sure that the corroborating evidence is air tight and replicated. Indeed, REPLICATION IS THE HEART OF GOOD SCIENCE and we scientists demand lots of it before a finding becomes widely accepted.

Second: Another key tenet of science is ACTIVELY SEEKING OUT ALTERNATE HYPOTHESES. We obsessively seek out evidence that can refute or “falsify” our research. And we demand this of other scientists! Abraham Lincoln was another advocate for this approach, famously assembling a “team of rivals” to ensure he was hearing competing viewpoints.

Third: The best defense against misinformation is a good offense – specifically, it’s better to FOCUS ON AMPLIFYING THE GOOD info than tearing down the bad. Pushing out the good stuff improves the information ecosystem, while overly focusing on the bad (even in the spirit of rebuttal!) can inadvertently have a “backfire effect,” keeping it in the news cycle. FULL DISCLOSURE: the “backfire effect” has NOT been universally replicated (see #1) as this article discusses.

Finally – and this is the real key – always lead with kindness and empathy when engaging with your personal connections around divisive topics. Facebook’s strength lies in its unique ability to harness the power of personal connection. As this article articulate, Facebook is still trying to figure this all out. In the meantime, we can each make sure to use The Force for good!!!

Link to original FB post