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How to Survive the Misinformation Age: Skeptical Inquirer Takes on “Alternative Facts”

April 3, 2017

With the rise of fake news and “alternative facts,” no publication is better suited than Skeptical Inquirer to serve as a survival manual for the wilderness of misinformation. In its latest issue, leading thinkers confront the storm of falsehoods and pseudoscience with practical strategies built on a foundation of facts.

Columbia University astronomer David Helfand takes the lead as our guide through the Misinformation Age, warning that we are allowing ourselves to become “Google-fed zombies,” too reliant on dubious information sources that all seem equally valid. “If the talking box on your dashboard knows exactly where you are and can tell you how to get where you are going, why should talking to dead relatives not be plausible?”

If self-reinforcing social media feeds have broken the limits of plausibility, what is the answer? For Hefland, the only way to navigate the Misinformation Age — and begin to reverse its effects — is to mount a “counterinsurgency.” The reality-based community must forego partisan judgment, and instead break down arguments into their understandable component truths. “The power of science lies in its skeptical, rational, evidence-based approach to understanding the world,” writes Hefland. “This power begins with facts, and in my experience, these facts are the best tools with which to start the revolution.”

Cutting through the tangle of falsehoods is former U.S. Air Force physician Harriet Hall, who pushes back against the alarmism being manufactured against cholesterol-reducing statins. It’s another example of the kind of denial that, as she writes, “automatically rejects anything that comes from Big Pharma or mainstream medicine.” As with vaccines, climate change, and evolution, the facts are the facts, regardless of one’s ideology. How does she know the facts are on her side with statins? She states quite plainly, “Statins work, bitches!”

Also in this issue: Prof. Craig Foster and Second Lieutenant Sarenna Ortiz of the U.S. Air Force Academy use the false vaccine-autism link to show how irrelevant scientific studies can give pseudoscience the imprimatur of validity, revealing a contradiction. “It acknowledges the importance of science,” they write, “but disregards the most informative scientific studies and the general consensus of the scientific community.”

Plus: Bertha Vasquez, veteran middle school science teacher and head of the Center for Inquiry’s Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science (TIES) describes the incredibly pressure teachers feel to tiptoe around, or even entirely avoid, discussion of the fact of evolution. “When asked if they felt pressure to teach creationism in their classrooms, 31 percent of high school biology teachers reported that they did,” writes Vasquez, “and that this pressure comes primarily from students and parents.”

The May/Junel 2017 issue is available on newsstands and in mobile app stores. For more information, visit http://www.csicop.org/si.

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Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a scientific and educational program of the Center for Inquiry. CSI encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSI and SI at http://www.csicop.org.

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at http://www.centerforinquiry.net.