Over at the INSIGHT blog on Monday, I wrote about how newsrooms and journalism non-profits are increasingly building tools that are of use to skeptics. This is happening because the rise of viral misinformation (driven by social media) has made fact-checking and debunking a key need for journalists.
Skeptics who are not politically active may not frequent sites like Politifact or FactCheck.org, but they are multiplying. A recent survey counted as many as 89 of them worldwide (though some are only active in election years). Even if the political statements being covered there aren’t of interest to you, the sheer fact that fact checking is becoming normalized should be a good thing for skepticism online.
But this brings up another problem – there are so many sites specializing in debunking falsehoods now, how does a diligent skeptic keep up? Perhaps we need a fact checking aggregator! And are any of these sites covering science stories that are the meat and potatoes of skepticism?
I’ve got some good news related to those questions and three new sites to check out.
In the INSIGHT post I plugged the new viral story tracker called Emergent.info. It is a project of Craig Silverman and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, and it is part of a project to research rumors and debunking in the news media.
Although it is intended as a journalistic research tool and project, it does not limit itself to political stories. In fact it often includes stories of interest to skeptics, such as a Russian magnetic boy, a hoax about a planetary alignment, a story about Argentine werewolves and even a ghost ship.
One interesting thing about Emergent are the stats it keeps on social media sharing. You can actually see how much each story is shared on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere and whether a particular debunk outraces the original bunk on social media. (Spoiler alert: it never does).
By the way, Craig is also the author of a related new report called “Lies, Damn Lies and Viral Content“, which was just launched on Tuesday. The report quotes me in several places, as well as other skeptics including Sharon Hill, Ben Radford, Robert Todd Carroll and the one and only James Randi. Do check it out.
Fact Check Central
There’s another brand new fact check site that should be useful for skeptics, particularly in the UK. It is called Fact Check Central.
This site acts as an aggregator for fact checks that are published on a number of different web sites including NHS Choices, Africa Check, FullFact and others. It was launched by the UK charity Sense About Science in January, but doesn’t appear to limit itself to science stories. You can, however use a set of categories or tags at the top to drill down on stories for Health, Food and Diet and other topics.
One thing I wish both Emergent and Fact Check Central would add is an RSS or Atom feed of the site, so readers can subscribe for new updates. (Emergent has an email newsletter instead, which is better than nothing). RSS is an older technology, but it can be combined with other things like offline readers and automation tools like IFTTT to do very interesting things.
Finally, the US political fact checking site FactCheck.org is run by the non-partisan Annenberg Public Policy Center. It’s long been one of the top fact checking sites for political speech in the United States.
On January 29th they launched a new section of their site called SciCheck. It is focused “exclusively on false and misleading scientific claims that are made by partisans to influence public policy.” That’s currently a very rich area, with climate denial and measles outbreaks in the news right now.
And that’s not the only thing of interest to skeptics going on at Annenberg:
[T]he launch of SciCheck is part of a broader effort by the policy center to study science communication. In October, APPC announced that it was expanding its research areas to include the science of science communication, seeking to investigate how scientific evidence can be more effectively conveyed to the public.
That’s great news. Oh, and unlike the other two sites, SciCheck does have an RSS feed you can use to automatically subscribe to new posts.
There’s also the issue of how accurate some of the media fact-check websites are. PolitiFact in particular has drawn heat, and IMO, at times, the heat has been warranted.
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