This is helpful. Our friend Alex Berezow of the American Council on Science and Health offers smart tips on spotting fake science news. The comments of Dr. Berezow, a microbiologist who co-founded the invaluable Real Clear Science site, will ring true if you follow the evolution debate with an eye to distortions committed by Darwin partisans in the media. Berezow is no ID advocate, mind you, but proponents of intelligent design will be nodding in affirmation as they read his excellent post.
[T]oo many science journalists don’t actually possess a well-rounded knowledge of science.
Worse, when it comes to the ID debate, these journalists often seem to have done little more than scan the Wikipedia article, a disinformation hatchet job.
Here he hits the nail on the head:
[S]cience journalists are every bit as biased as their more traditional counterparts, perhaps even more so. They routinely hold double standards in regard to analyzing science policies. They conflate scientific evidence with science policy, immediately labeling anyone “anti-science” if he or she disagrees with their cultural beliefs. Worse, science journalists feel no inhibition whatsoever to cheerlead openly for their favorite politicians and to heap scorn upon those they dislike. Just read Twitter. [Emphasis added.]
As to practical tips for spotting fake science news, he lists “red flags” including:
9) The article is about evolutionary psychology.
That is amusing, and true. I’d add a few red flags of my own. Not any journalist who commits one or more of the following is guilty of spreading fake news, but these are things to watch for:
- The article discusses “evolution” without defining it.
- The article discusses “creationism” without defining it.
- The article discusses “intelligent design” without defining it, or without defining the idea as its own proponents do.
- The article conflates intelligent design with creationism in a phrase like “Intelligent Design Creationism.”
- The article uses scare terms like “anti-science” or “science denial” as an excuse for not engaging with ideas the writer doesn’t like or hasn’t bothered to research.
- The article engages in personal attacks or (per journalist Sharyl Attkisson in an excellent TED talk video) “inflammatory language”: “crank, quack, nutty, lies, paranoid, pseudo, and conspiracy.”
- The article uses instances of trivial microevolution to extrapolate as a freebee to macroevolution, i.e., major innovations in the history of life. A current favorite is antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
- The article credulously invokes what Jonathan Wells calls icons of evolution, from peppered moths, Miller-Urey, and Darwin’s finches to the myth of how “99 percent of our DNA is identical to that of chimpanzees,” or whales as the “sweetest series of transitional fossils an evolutionist could ever hope to find,” and the like.
- The article presents academic freedom legislation as an attempt to “teach creationism” in the schools.
- The article takes aim at ideas associated with prominent ID proponents without naming them or citing their terminology.
I could go on. Berezow notes that 84 percent of respondents in a poll think fake news “may be hurting the country.” As one example of the genre when it comes to science, he cites “viral” stories about how Nutella causes cancer.
I’m not too worried about Nutella. Fad stories like that are overnight sensations, here today and gone tomorrow, aren’t they? Whereas fake news in defense of Darwinism has pervasive influence, and is much less easily recognized.
Scaring people with Nutella also doesn’t have the power of the prestige media, academia, and U.S. federal funding behind it in quite the same way. Which is why at Evolution News we have our work cut out for us.