For $55,000 you could discredit a journalist; for $200,000 you might instigate a street protest.
Judging by the state of Facebook feeds everywhere, fake news is now a very real problem—and one that appears to have equally real consequences by shaping political and social situations. Now, a new report puts some numbers to the costs of running a fake-news campaign, revealing that a key part of the problem may be that doing so is incredibly affordable.
Ben Harder, a journalist with US News & World Report, recently tweeted, “Pharma ads subsidize many health reporters’ salaries.” Elisabeth Rosenthal, who now heads Kaiser Health News after a long career with the New York Times, tweeted in that same discussion, “Many of my articles in the NYT carried pop-up ads for pharma. Infuriating.” Many journalists are aware of the drug industry’s attempts to gain positive attention by buying placement within the nation’s health care news. A few occasionally write or talk about it, as Harder and Rosenthal did publicly.
But I don’t think we talk often enough about why it matters if health care industry entities are allowed to advertise within, or sponsor, health care journalism content. Americans spend more than $3 trillion on health care. Conflicts of interest in health care and research are rampant. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) last month published a special edition all about health care conflicts of interest. JAMA included a Viewpoint article entitled, “Conflict of Interest: Why Does it Matter?” The first line: “Preservation of trust is the essential purpose of policies about conflict of interest.”
But who talks about conflicts of interest in health care journalism? In a Gallup poll, “Honesty/Ethics in Professions,” respondents rated journalists’ honesty and ethical standards below psychiatrists, chiropractors and bankers….and just above lawyers.
There is great potential harm in a further erosion of trust in journalism and in health care. There is a great potential harm in journalists – and the audience they serve – becoming numb to the presence of and influence of drug companies and other industry entities in the news and information disseminated to the public. There is, as we have begun to point out repeatedly in our review of news stories and PR news releases, advertising and marketing messages, often a polluted stream of contaminated information reaching the public. Often vested interests pollute that stream. (We will discuss these potential harms in more detail in part 3 of this series.)
That’s why I think that this issue demands and deserves a deeper dive. Why now? Because, as outlined in this series, there are a growing number of questionable alliances between a growing number of news organizations and health care industry sponsors. Money is exchanging hands and I ask “Why? Why do news organizations enter into these arrangements? Why do they feel they need to? Have they exhausted all other options?” I want to shine a light on a collection of news organization practices. I’m raising the same types of questions that journalists often raise as they report on various issues. But I’m asking them because I don’t see enough journalists talking about it when their own organizations accept industry money.
From the “hermeneutics of quantum gravity” to the “conceptual penis,” attempted hoaxes tell us that our contemporary problems around truth are both cultural and structural.
Call it, if you like, a replication experiment. Twenty-one years ago, the New York University physicist Alan Sokal attempted to prove that the influence of postmodern ways of thinking in the humanities had reached the point where academic nonsense was indistinguishable from academic sense. As a physicist, Sokal found writing about science to be particularly offensive, and he submitted a “hoax” paper to the important academic journal Social Text titled “.” Sokal was conducting an experiment to see if “a leading North American journal of cultural studies — whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross — [would] publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.” They did.
A few days ago, scholars Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay, in their words, published “‘The conceptual penis as a social construct,’ a Sokal-style hoax on gender studies.”
La nouvelle a fait grand bruit. Mardi 28 février, un groupe de chercheurs du laboratoire Biosantech a annoncé à avoir franchi «une étape décisive» dans l’élaboration d’un vaccin contre le VIH. Il n’en fallait pas plus pour enflammer la presse: «Vaccin, contre le sida: un nouvel espoir», titre Le Point, alors que Les Inrocks estiment qu’un «vaccin contre le sida [est] sur le point de voir le jour». Mais doit-on croire à cette réjouissante perspective? «L’histoire des sciences est jalonnée de belles promesses et d’utopies, qui n’engagent que ceux qui les croient, rappelle le sociologue Alain Kaufmann, responsable de l’interface sciences – société à l’UNIL*. Il faudrait se souvenir des précédentes, afin de garder les pieds sur terre.»
L’arrivée imminente d’un vaccin contre le VIH, par exemple, est annoncée chaque année depuis trente ans, au désespoir des patients toujours déçus. Derrière les déclarations de Biosantech, il y a – bien entendu – une étude scientifique, parue en avril 2016 dans la revue Retrovirology. Mais ces travaux sont loin de justifier un emballement médiatique. Il ne s’agit que d’un essai clinique de phase I/II mené sur 46 patients. Et les résultats présentés sont sérieusement discutés. On est donc loin du médicament.
«Les journalistes ne devraient pas se contenter des communiqués de presse et des déclarations faites par les scientifiques qui ont mené les recherches. S’ils interrogeaient systématiquement d’autres experts, leurs papiers seraient certainement plus critiques, poursuit Alain Kaufmann. Mais nous aurions tort de jeter l’anathème sur les seuls médias: l’amplification des promesses commence avec les chercheurs eux-mêmes, qui ont tendance à exagérer la portée de leurs résultats.»
Les algorithmes Facebook et Google sont de grands mystères pour les professionnels du web. On connaît généralement une partie seulement des éléments entrant en jeu dans le ranking de visibilité. L’algorithme Facebook auparavant appelé Edgerank, puis Newsfeed Ranking Algorithm a déjà connu de nombreuses évolutions, et se montre de plus en plus complexe. Mais à l’occasion de la conférence F8, Adam Mosseri qui occupe le poste de VP of Newsfeed a pu en dire plus sur son produit et son évolution. Ces informations ne vous aideront pas à vous jouer de l’algorithme, mais elles permettent de comprendre pourquoi un contenu est affiché ou non sur le Newsfeed.
Pour les membres intéressés par les présentations des intervenants de notre séminaire sur les réseaux sociaux, vous pouvez les visionner et télécharger dans l’espace “documents” de Christophe Ungar (espace réservé aux membres).
Every once in awhile it is necessary and desirable to expose extreme ideologies for what they are by carrying out their arguments and rhetoric to their logical and absurd conclusion, which is why we are proud to publish this expose of a hoaxed article published in a peer-reviewed article today. It’s ramifications are unknown but one hopes it will help reign in extremism in this and related areas. —Michael Shermer (Note from the editor of Skeptic Magazine)
The Hoax: The androcentric scientific and meta-scientific evidence that the penis is the male reproductive organ is considered overwhelming and largely uncontroversial.
That’s how we began. We used this preposterous sentence to open a “paper” consisting of 3,000 words of utter nonsense posing as academic scholarship. Then a peer-reviewed academic journal in the social sciences accepted and published it.
This paper should never have been published. Titled, “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct,” our paper “argues” that “The penis vis-à-vis maleness is an incoherent construct. We argue that the conceptual penis is better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a gender-performative, highly fluid social construct.” As if to prove philosopher David Hume’s claim that there is a deep gap between what is and what ought to be, our should-never-have-been-published paper was published in the open-access (meaning that articles are freely accessible and not behind a paywall), peer-reviewed journal Cogent Social Sciences. (In case the PDF is removed, we’ve archived it.)
Assuming the pen names “Jamie Lindsay” and “Peter Boyle,” and writing for the fictitious “Southeast Independent Social Research Group,” we wrote an absurd paper loosely composed in the style of post-structuralist discursive gender theory. The paper was ridiculous by intention, essentially arguing that penises shouldn’t be thought of as male genital organs but as damaging social constructions. We made no attempt to find out what “post-structuralist discursive gender theory” actually means. We assumed that if we were merely clear in our moral implications that maleness is intrinsically bad and that the penis is somehow at the root of it, we could get the paper published in a respectable journal.
In a multiplatform world, consumers find content in a multitude of ways— not only on your site, but also while scrolling on Facebook or searching on Google. The different ways a visitor can land on your content influences not only what they read, but also how they read. Recent research from Chartbeat shows that people exhibit different content consumption behaviors when coming from platforms like Facebook and Google than when already on your site.
Until now, the gaps in content consumption between Facebook and Google audiences haven’t been fully explored or researched. We’re hoping to change that by illuminating these differences using data from Chartbeat’s network of 50,000 media sites across the globe. We hope this unique perspective helps you understand the distinct role of each platform, so you can maximize your readership wherever it lives.
NOTE: Jill Nicholson, Head of Product Education at Chartbeat in New York, will be a speaker at our SNF-Seminar, in Berne, on May 11th, dedicated to “Science journalism and social networks”. Some spaces left. Register HERE.
The World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ) would like to share with you the guide Online Privacy for Journalists, which gives you tips and tricks to project your sources and valuable information.
It is now harder than ever to protect your data and your sources as technology continues to develop. This WFSJ guide outlines topics such as how to communicate with sources and safeguard sensitive data, how to use two-factor authentication, how to become anonymous online, how to secure your email, and even which search engines are safer to use.
If you consider yourself to have even a passing familiarity with science, you likely find yourself in a state of disbelief as the president of the United States calls climate scientists “hoaxsters” and pushes conspiracy theories about vaccines. The Trump administration seems practically allergic to evidence. And it’s not just Trump—plenty of people across the political spectrum hold bizarre and inaccurate ideas about science, from climate change and vaccines to guns and genetically modified organisms.
If you are a scientist, this disregard for evidence probably drives you crazy. So what do you do about it?
It seems many scientists would take matters into their own hands by learning how to better communicate their subject to the masses. I’ve taught science communication at Columbia University and New York University, and I’ve run an international network of workshops for scientists and writers for nearly a decade. I’ve always had a handful of intrepid graduate students, but now, fueled by the Trump administration’s Etch A Sketch relationship to facts, record numbers of scientists are setting aside the pipette for the pen. Across the country, science communication and advocacy groups report upticks in interest. Many scientists hope that by doing a better job of explaining science, they can move the needle toward scientific consensus on politically charged issues. As recent studies from Michigan State University found, scientists’ top reason for engaging the public is to inform and defend science from misinformation.
It’s an admirable goal, but almost certainly destined to fail. This is because the way most scientists think about science communication—that just explaining the real science better will help—is plain wrong. In fact, it’s so wrong that it may have the opposite effect of what they’re trying to achieve.
A forty-year tightening of funding for scientific research has meant that resources are increasingly directed toward applied or practical outcomes, with the intent of creating products of immediate value. In such a scenario, it makes sense to focus on the most identifiable and urgent problems, right? Actually, it doesn’t. In his classic essay “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge”, Abraham Flexner, the founding Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and the man who helped bring Albert Einstein to the United States, describes a great paradox of scientific research. The search for answers to deep questions, motivated solely by curiosity and without concern for applications, often leads not only to the greatest scientific discoveries but also to the most revolutionary technological breakthroughs. In short, no quantum mechanics, no computer chips.
This brief book includes Flexner’s timeless 1939 essay alongside a new companion essay by Robbert Dijkgraaf, the Institute’s current Director, in which he shows that Flexner’s defense of the value of “the unobstructed pursuit of useless knowledge” may be even more relevant today than it was in the early twentieth century. Dijkgraaf describes how basic research has led to major transformations in the past century and explains why it is an essential precondition of innovation and the first step in social and cultural change. He makes the case that society can achieve deeper understanding and practical progress today and tomorrow only by truly valuing and substantially funding the curiosity-driven “pursuit of useless knowledge” in both the sciences and the humanities.