If It’s Astonishing, Conspiracy, Depraved, Insidious, Fantastic, Unbelievable – Please Engage Brain Before Retweeting #fakenews #fake #science #psychology

False Bell Pepper Meme

Now, think about this claim. A pepper is, botanically, a fruit

Fake news and social media are in the (real) news these days, mostly in opinion pieces. But science has something to say too.

The reason fake news works is because we’re human.

Avoid temptation to shift the blame elsewhere… Even if we solve bots and the foreign interference problem, it wouldn’t solve the problem of online misinformation.

False news spreads faster than true stories, and it’s because of humans, not bots, according to a new study published today in Science. Our preference for novel news, which is often false, may be driving our behavior. axios

Researchers had a lot of data to work with – more than 4.5 million tweets between 2006 and 2017. They used six fact-checking sites (including two of my favorites, Politifact and Snopes) to determine if an item was true.

They found false stories traveled faster, farther and deeper into Twitter than the true kind. True stories took six times as long as false ones to reach 1500 people. And, false stories were 70% more likely to be retweeted.

We humans are programmed for this. I’m reminded of the notion that, if our ancestors believed there was a lion rather than wind behind rustling grass, they lived to have offspring who led to us. Our brains find it safer to believe something that confirms our fears, and so we share the item.

I suppose when you’re not constrained by reality, you can more easily contrive fun, exciting click-bait. The study says novelty grabs us, and something you never heard before is (at least on Twitter) more likely to be false. Who doesn’t love to be the first in their group to learn something new? And share it with friends?

If you’ve tut-tutted over claims about male and female bell peppers, or Mars will appear the size of the full moon tomorrow, or rumors of gang initiations that kill innocent people, or pizzagate – well, it’s just human nature, and you’re human too. It takes effort to engage all that lovely pre-frontal cortex, but please do.

BTW, before “fake news” was such a popular phrase, we had

Truthiness, the belief or assertion that a particular statement is true based on the intuition, without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts. Truthiness can range from ignorant assertions of falsehoods to deliberate duplicity or propaganda intended to sway opinions… [The word] satirized the misuse of appeal to emotion and “gut feeling” as a rhetorical device. wikipedia


#Doomsday? Again?! Earth’s Local #Interstellar Cloud #space

NASA image of bow shock“Researchers drew on measurements by 11 spacecraft and satellites that have recorded directly or indirectly the flow of helium atoms into the solar system” http://bit.ly/1cLNGZD  to detect a change in the region of space our solar system is moving through.  Changes in the Local Interstellar Cloud could change the shape of the sun’s heliosphere, a bubble of charged particles emitted by the sun that helps define the extent of the solar system.  The heliosphere deflects cosmic rays, which is good for life on Earth.

I bet the doomsday books and blogs are already gearing up thanks to this news.
But the change, if it persists, will be slow compared to a human life span, and not deadly.  Do you remember the Internet rumors about Mars appearing as large as the moon in the sky?  Last December was the end of the world?  A rogue planet is sneaking up on us from the other side of the sun?  Various alignments and conjunctions presage good or bad?  Science rumors abound – check it out here  Science is full of wonder and the universe is constantly changing, but be skeptical of any source WITH LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS.  “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”

The illustration for this post is from NASA’s Hubble Telescope:  a bow shock about half a light-year across, created by the heliosphere from the star L.L. Orion colliding supersonically with the gas and dust of the Orion Nebula.  Our sun probably does not produce a similar bow shock with the Local Interstellar Cloud, but it’s a cool image.