We've previously talked about obviously fake news stories that somehow managed to fool the mainstream media. As this sort of thing continues to pile up, it seems like it's worth taking a deeper look at why. What kinds of bullshit are best streamlined to slip past our bullshit detectors?
Here are some of the top methods that fool a lot of the people a lot of the time.
A "Study" Shows Some Bad-Mouthed Group Has Lower IQs
Every self-respecting Internet snob knows that real PC users use Chrome or Firefox Web browsers (or something more obscure), and that Internet Explorer is for children and grandmothers, and any adult using it must be a dunce who breaks their DVD drive and complains to tech support about how flimsy their "cupholder" was.
That's why it was so easy for people to swallow a "study" claiming that IE users have lower IQs than users of other browsers. The hoaxer admitted he was just trying to make a point about IE6 and pointed out eight obvious reasons why people should have been able to tell it was fake.
But nobody was looking because we all just know that IE users are dumb, so if we see a professional looking website with a "study" on it proving what we "know," why dig deeper?
Sure, that looks solid.
Similarly, Keith Olbermann once went on air to report that parents lose 12 to 20 IQ points after having children, according to a study reported on a local fake news website (Indiana's version of The Onion). That's clearly an anti-Olbermann site there, but it's mentioned elsewhere, along with the fact he apologized on-air afterward. But childless people everywhere were probably saying, "Of course, that explains why my friends go goofy talking to their babies and buying them stupid baby products." And parents themselves were probably saying, "Well, I sure felt like a zombie for that first year, I guess that makes sense."
"At the time, I thought it was because I was tired as hell, but sure, maybe I just became dumber permanently."
And of course, there was a famous Internet-fabricated chart showing that people who voted for Bush had lower IQs, fooling big news publications like the Economist. It just seemed so obviously true to anyone anti-Bush at the time that there wasn't any need to check. And if you say you've got scientific proof that Bush himself has a lower IQ than any other president, well, no one was going to fact-check that. Certainly not Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau or The Guardian, as we've mentioned before.
I'm not saying Bush was not stupid, I'm just saying that journalistic integrity requires you to base that assessment on, like, things he's done or said, and not on fake "studies." But it's so, so tempting to say science backs you up on what you know.
I KNEW IT!
Let's put it this way: I'm pretty sure I could put together a website in multi-colored Comic Sans for the "University of Provolone" publishing a study that claims Twilight fans are 10 IQ points dumber than average, and nobody would ever call me on it.
Amazing Scientific Breakthroughs!
If you know anything about science, you know that real scientific advances are things like, "One New Protein Identified In 500 Protein Pathway That Causes Breast Cancer." Boring! Or "Researchers Discover One Possibility How Life On Mars Could Have Gotten Its Water, If There Was Life On Mars, And It Needed Water." Ho-hum!
From Clinical Cancer Research
Or something catchy like this.
Don't get me wrong, that shit is as important as hell, and it's exactly those little steps which come together by the thousands to make great scientific advances. But it's horribly boring news for Joe and Jane Newsweek Reader. That's why it always gets turned into "Cancer Almost Cured!" or "Proof of Life On Mars!"
For example: One day, a NASA researcher was talking to some friends at a party about how biological life she was studying in Spain might be similar to something that could live on Mars. Next thing she knew, there was a headline saying "NASA Researchers Claim Evidence of Present Life on Mars." Apparently she had told this to "a group of space officials" at a "private meeting," as reported by Space.com and MSNBC.
This woman is sharing her views of male-female large group social dynamics at a private meeting.
Any scientist knows that science doesn't really happen in big surprises like that, where one day nobody knows what an atom is, and the next day some lone scientist has split it and created an atomic bomb. But this happens all the time in movies, where one lone crackpot secretly discovers a cure for cancer or a formula for perpetual energy, without working with any other scientists or going off any previous research, and unveils it all at once.
That tiny print there is a list of AUTHORS of this study of breast cancer genes.
It's just that kind of movie mentality that makes people think that of course one guy would be able to beat AIDS and his genes hold the secret to curing AIDS for everyone. Soon the bad guys will come for him and there will be an exciting chase! Oh wait no, he didn't have AIDS. Maybe we could still have a chase though?