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Sunday, November 28, 2021


Fake news is the fault of readers and media

The Inspector General for the National Science Foundation (NSF) recently closed an investigation that found intentional fabrication of data and falsification of manuscripts. Another investigation from the Office of Investigations for the NSF, found that the subject had knowingly plagiarized in multiple NSF proposals.

In both instances, the subject was barred from participating in the capacity of peer reviewer, adviser or consultant.

The failure to properly penalize instances of scientific fabrication, plagiarism, circular reporting, and ideological framing leads the country’s media diet to make extrapolations on misinformation. This misinformation makes its way down to a massive audience.

Even if the penalization of these crimes against academia does not start from within the organization, the public has a vested interest in holding information sources accountable to the strictest standards of objectivity. This is especially true when it comes to research and education agencies.

Americans, especially millennials, are saturated with media choices on a daily basis. Viewers have been lulled into a false sense of intellectuality by reading summaries of summaries ad hominem.

For instance, an article could be run by a news source that already has a potential bias based on what audience its’ ad revenue is targeted to capture. The article may then cite an academic reference to establish a larger point. The reference is built upon faulty data or some other form of fabrication.

The viewer nevertheless may trust the chain of information that led to the notions stated in an oversimplified article.  People persuaded by these notions spread the articles throughout social groups both online and offline. “Echo chambers” or “filter bubbles” do a major disservice by psychologically affirming what readers already believe.

A recent study examined individuals’ online sources and media consumption patterns gauged on a partisan scale while simultaneously tracking their level of engagement in searching for information. Overall, the evidence suggests that a far-leaning, homogenous media diet tends to be the scenario primarily with viewers that are already interested in socio-political issues and actively seek out news.

When the evidence was juxtaposed against the viewership patterns of an unexpected current event (the Clinton email scandal was used in this study) the researcher found a spike in viewership.

As seen recently, “fake news” operations are set up to capitalize on this type of phenomenon. While we can discount those with hard-lined partisan affiliations as being lost to objectivity in information sources, it is in instances when there is a spike in active information-seeking from otherwise passive viewers that are concerning.

The fear of selective exposure in the modern era has to be tackled by the viewer. Millennials have grown up in an era deemed the “information age” and the proliferation of the internet and, more specifically, social media has provided more ways to study the pathways of collective decision-making.

While transparency amongst academic research is great, scientific and journalistic integrity should be championed if we find aberrations in these pathways.

Bias and slant from news sources should be expected at this point. There is little room left for a balanced opinion among a shifting media landscape. In order to close the gap between academic information and the end user, a greater importance must be demanded on academic safeguards and the journalistic integrity of intermediaries, like media channels.

The concern shouldn’t be whether a news article is right or wrong by the viewer’s measure but whether the information derived by a small link used to source the original documents was obtained objectively in the first place.

Opinion columnist Nicholas Bell is an MBA graduate student and can be reached at [email protected]


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