THIS SUPER POST WILL GIVE YOU PERFECT GRADES. PROFESSORS HATE IT!

Disclaimer: This post won’t give you perfect grades. You are better off with hard work and plenty of sleep.

We have seen claims like this before:

Or news stories that claim simple solutions to the most devastating of diseases:

fox
Fox News

These claims appeal to our most basic emotions and fears. We want to live healthy lives, free from illness and pain. Moreover, we want easy solutions to our health needs and concerns. However, our mental and physical well-being isn’t always so simple. Adverts and news articles, like those seen above, prey on our desires and fears. Too often, these claims are put forth by persons wanting to sell you are product. It is important to keep a critical mind when you see these claims.

Information literacy is important in more than just school. These are life-long learning behaviors that can help you make informed decisions. Brian Dunning of Skeptoid Media sets out a 15-point checklist to help spot pseudoscience. Any time you encounter a scientific claim, especially when it comes to issues of health and medicine, you should ask some basic questions:

  • Is the claim said to be based on ancient knowledge?
  • Was the claim first announced through mass media, or through scientific channels?
  • Do the claimants state that their claim is being suppressed by authorities?
  • Does the claim sound far fetched, or too good to be true?
  • Do the claimants have legitimate credentials?

For the average person, trying to identify good medical science can be tough. Health News Review is a watchdog organization operated by trained medical professionals and scientific journalists. This site evaluates health related stories in popular media. It assigns a simple to understand five-star rating system based on the accuracy of the story. Health News Review is an excellent resource for fact checking popular, mainstream health claims.

The most important thing is to be informed. Prairie State College Library has numerous books to help.

 Ordinarily well : The case for antidepressants

by Peter Kramer

Call #RM332 .K73 2016

“Do antidepressants actually work, or are they just glorified dummy pills? How can we tell one way or the other?In Ordinarily Well, the celebrated psychiatrist and author Peter D. Kramer addresses the growing mistrust of antidepressants among the medical establishment and the broader public by taking the long view. He charts the history of the drugs’ development and the research that tests their worth, from the Swiss psychiatrist Roland Kuhn’s pioneering midcentury discovery of imipramine’s antidepressant properties to recent controversial studies suggesting that medications like Prozac and Paxil may be no better than placebos in alleviating symptoms. He unpacks the complex “inside baseball” of psychiatry–statistics–and reveals the fascinating ways that clinical studies and their results can be combined, manipulated, and skewed toward a desired conclusion. All the while, Kramer never loses sight of the patients themselves. He writes with deep empathy about his own clinical encounters over the decades as he weighed treatments, analyzed trial results, and considered the idiosyncrasies each case presented. As Kramer sees it, we must respect human complexity and the value of psychotherapy without denying the truth–that depression is a serious and destructive illness that demands the most effective treatment available”


The pseudoscience wars : Immanuel Velikovsky and the birth of the modern fringe
by Micharl Gordin

Call #Q172.5.P77 G674 2012

“Science today is hardly universally secure, and scientists seem themselves beset by critics, denialists, and those they label “pseudoscientists”—as seen all too clearly in battles over evolution and climate change. The Pseudoscience Wars simultaneously reveals the surprising Cold War roots of our contemporary dilemma and points readers to a different approach to drawing the line between knowledge and nonsense.”


Sport and exercise psychology : A critical introduction

by Aidan P. Moran

Call #GV706.4 .M67 2012

“Although sport is played with the body, it is won in the mind. Inspired by this idea, the second edition of this popular textbook provides a comprehensive critical introduction to sport and exercise psychology – a discipline that is concerned with the theory and practice of helping athletes to do their best when it matters the most.”


Tips for spotting conspiracy theories

Following up a recent post on this blog addressing the issue of fake news, it’s worth addressing an issue we sometimes run into when patrons come into the library looking for information on conspiracy theories. For example, if someone were to ask for a resource about how best to spot a reptilian, or for information about how NASA faked the landing on the moon, we would have a problem, because the kinds of books and articles that address those questions don’t generally meet the criteria for inclusion in the library’s collection. The main thing that keeps them out is their lack of references to anything resembling objective evidence, let alone scientifically verifiable studies. As works of fiction, they fail the requirement of literary merit.

A photo of the Apollo 11 crew during training, sometimes pointed to as supposed evidence that the whole moon landing was done in a studio.
A photo of the Apollo 11 crew during training, sometimes pointed to as supposed evidence that the whole moon landing was done in a studio.

This is not to say we don’t have information about particular conspiracy theories, or how they emerged, or why people believe them. We certainly have resources along those lines. This scientific paper, for example, explores how the tendency for people to believe in conspiracy theories is related to their perceived lack of control in the world.

We also have many books and articles that cover real conspiracies, which certainly have occurred, such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, Nixon’s Watergate conspiracy, Project MKUltra, and so on. Real conspiracies are eventually uncovered, and one researcher has even offered estimates for how long it should take conspiracies to be uncovered given the number of people that would have to be involved. For example, given the number of people who would have had to be involved in the conspiracy, the moon landing conspiracy should have been outed in a bit under four years.

Finally, if you’d like some help deciding whether something you’ve found on the internet is discussing a real conspiracy or a conspiracy theory, check out this short checklist in Scientific American. Your PSC Librarians are also happy to discuss questions about evidence and information creation.

 

Don’t Let Fake News Ruin Your Day

In the past week since the U.S. presidential election, there’s been an increase of discussions about fake news stories. Whether or not they played a role in determining the outcome of the election will be difficult to determine, but it’s clear that false information in the disguise of credible news has been on the rise, and is spreading fast. Even Google got in on the act, displaying news results that were false:

Fake Google News Screenshot
Source: New York Magazine. Picture links to article.

Shortly after this happened, both Google and Facebook have said they will do their best to prevent promotion of false news stories. But that doesn’t mean they’ll go away completely. So what can we do?

Communication professor Melissa Zimdars from Merrimack College was interviewed by the Chronicle of Higher Education about increasing and improving media literacy — the ability to critically analyze a piece of news. Here are some tips from her (these are all taken from a document she created that had a list of fake news sources; the document is still available but the list of sources has been removed while it’s being updated and edited); the bolding is mine:

  • Watch out for websites that end in “.com.co” as they are often fake versions of real news sources  
  • Watch out if known/reputable news sites are not also reporting on the story. Sometimes lack of coverage is the result of corporate media bias and other factors, but there should typically be more than one source reporting on a topic or event.
  • Odd domain names generally equal odd and rarely truthful news.
  • Lack of author attribution may, but not always, signify that the news story is suspect and requires verification.
  • Some news organizations are also letting bloggers post under the banner of particular news brands; however, many of these posts do not go through the same editing process (ex: BuzzFeed Community Posts, Kinja blogs, Forbes blogs).
  • Check the “About Us” tab on websites or look up the website on Snopes or Wikipedia for more information about the source.
  • Bad web design and use of ALL CAPS can also be a sign that the source you’re looking at should be verified and/or read in conjunction with other sources.
  • It’s always best to read multiple sources of information to get a variety of viewpoints and media frames. Some sources not yet included in this list (although their practices at times may qualify them for addition), such as The Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, and Fox News, vacillate between providing important, legitimate, problematic, and/or hyperbolic news coverage, requiring readers and viewers to verify and contextualize information with other sources.

Some more thoughts from the PSC Library:

  • Don’t indiscriminately retweet or reblog or repost. Take a moment to investigate the story being told.
  • Don’t be fooled by professional looking presentations! More and more people are skilled in making website and graphics. Instead, take some time to look at the source of the article or story.

Lastly, beware of confirmation bias, or “When people would like a certain idea/concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true.” Webster University professor Julie Smith has dedicated her career to media literacy and debunking fake news stories, and she makes her concern over confirmation bias very clearly in her post-election post. She says:

I feel we have entered into an age where truth no longer matters.  We are in a post-truth world.

We are so compelled to believe the worst of one candidate and the best of another, that we are incapable and unwilling to entertain any critical thought.

We are more interested in what we believe rather than what is true.

For more examples of confirmation bias — and how to critically evaluate news sources — visit Julie’s website.

Critical analysis of news — of any information — has always been important. But now, it may be even more important. Do your part to be informed.