How technology can defeat the rising tide of faux science

How technology can defeat the rising tide of faux science
23 March 2024 J.W.H

Science is held in high esteem as of late. Unfortunately, there’s also loads of competition attributable to misinformation. Seven in 10 Americans consider the advantages of science outweigh the harms, and nine in 10 consider science and technology will create more opportunities for future generations. Scientists have made dramatic progress in understanding the universe and biological mechanisms, and advances in computation are benefiting all fields of science.

On the opposite hand, Americans are surrounded by a growing wave of disinformation and false science. Let's take climate change. Scientists are inside almost complete agreement that humans are the fundamental explanation for global warming. But the polls show it one third of the population disagrees with this request.

In mine 30 years of studying and promoting scientific literacyI discovered that college-educated adults have large gaps of their basic science knowledge, and the gaps are alarming susceptible to superstitions and beliefs unsupported by any evidence. One approach to combat that is to make it easier for people to identify pseudoscience on the Internet. To this end, my lab on the University of Arizona has developed an AI-based pseudoscience detector that we plan to make freely available as an internet browser extension and smartphone app.

Americans' penchant for false science

Americans are susceptible to superstitions and beliefs about paranormal phenomena. This is evidenced by an annual study conducted by sociologists at Chapman University greater than half consider in ghosts and the existence of ancient civilizations like Atlantis, and over a 3rd consider that aliens have visited Earth prior to now or are currently visiting it. Over 75% have multiple paranormal beliefs. The study shows that these numbers have increased lately.

The widespread belief in astrology is an annoyance to my astronomy colleagues. It has long had a foothold in popular culture due to horoscopes in newspapers and magazines however it is currently thriving. Faith is robust even amongst probably the most educated. My research amongst college students shows that three-quarters of them they consider that astrology may be very or “somewhat” scientific and only half of science majors consider them to be unscientific in any respect.

Allan Mazur, a sociologist at Syracuse University, delved into this issue the character of irrational belief systems, their cultural roots and political influence. Conspiracy theories are, by definition, resistant to evidence or data that might prove them false. Some are at the least funny. Supporters of the flat Earth theory turn back the clock by two thousand years of scientific progress. Interest on this bizarre idea has grown over the past five years, inspired by social media influencers and the echo chamber nature of web sites like Reddit. As with climate change denial, many come to this belief through YouTube videos.

But the implications of false science are nothing to laugh at. On health and climate change issues disinformation generally is a matter of life and death. Over a 90-day period spanning December, January and February, people liked, shared and commented on posts from sites containing false or misleading details about Covid-19 142 times greater than information from the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.

Combating fake science is an urgent priority. In a world increasingly depending on science and technology, civil society can only function if the electorate is well informed.

Educators have to roll up their sleeves and do a greater job of teaching young people to think critically. But the issue goes beyond the classroom. The Internet is the primary source of scientific information for 80% of individuals aged 18 to 24.

One study found that the vast majority of a random sample of 200 YouTube videos about climate change he denied that humans were responsible or claimed it was a conspiracy. Videos promoting conspiracy theories received probably the most views. Another study showed this 1 / 4 of all climate tweets were generated by bots and preferentially amplified messages from climate change deniers.

Technology to the rescue?

The recent success of machine learning and artificial intelligence in fake news detection points the approach to detecting fake science on the Internet. The secret is neuron network technology. Neural networks are loosely modeled on the human brain. They consist of many interconnected computer processors that discover significant patterns in data similar to words and pictures. Neural networks already permeate on a regular basis life, especially in… natural language processing systems similar to Amazon's Alexa and Google's language translation feature.

At the University of Arizona, we trained neural networks on fastidiously chosen popular articles about climate change and biological evolution, and the neural networks are 90% effective at separating the wheat from the chaff. By quickly scanning your website, our neural network can tell whether your content is scientifically sound or whether it's climate change denial garbage. We hope that with further refinement and testing, neural networks will find a way to work in all fields of science.

Neural network technology being developed on the University of Arizona will mark research sites with a color code indicating their reliability (left). The smartphone version of the app will gamify the strategy of identifying scientific articles as true or false (right).
Chris Impey, CC BY-ND

The goal is an internet browser extension that detects when a user is viewing scientific content and infers whether it’s true or false. If that is misinformation, the tool will suggest a reliable website on the subject. My colleagues and I also plan to change the interface with a smartphone app that can allow people to compete with family and friends in spotting fake science. Data from the very best participants shall be used to coach the neural network.

Sniffing out fake science ought to be easier than sniffing out fake news generally, because subjective opinion plays a minimal role in legitimate science, which is characterised by evidence, logic, and verification. Experts can easily distinguish legitimate science from conspiracy theories and ideologically driven arguments, which suggests machine learning systems may also be trained.

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to the facts.” These words from Daniel Patrick Moynihanadviser to 4 presidents, could also be a mantra for those attempting to protect science from drowning in disinformation.

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  • J.W.H

    About John:

    John Williams is a Reincarnationist paranormal Intuitive freelance writer...he is living proof of reincarnation existence, through his personal exploration, he has confirmed its authenticity through visits to the very lands where these events transpired.

    Through guided meditation/s using hemi-sync technology he has managed to recollect 3 previous lives to his own, that go back to the Mid to Late 19th century.

    JWH - "You are the GODS! - Inclusion of the Eternal Light of Love and you shall never die”.

    “Death is Just the Beginning of Life”