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How fake science websites hijack our trust in experts to misinform and confuse

In science, all research is peer-reviewed by experts. Now, fake science websites are
mimicking these disciplines. These websites capitalise on our trust in experts. In some cases, these websites are paid to publish fake science. This is becoming more common. In a recent global survey, almost 50% of respondents said they see false or misleading information online daily. By understanding the methods these sites use we can prevent their influence. Hyperlinking is a technique used to convince website users. They reassure the user that the content is credible, but most people don’t have experience in analytical techniques and so these links aren’t questioned. Repetition is used to increase the visibility of fake science content but also saturate search engines. This content can be repeated and spread across different sites. Users of “lateral reading” get multiple websites that corroborate the fake science from the initial source. Many of these sites only choose articles that agree with their perspective and depend on the audience not taking time to follow up. Manufacturing doubt is another strategy where facts are intentionally changed to promote an agenda. It is used in the tobacco industry and against the climate crisis. Meaning articles can maintain the façade of using scientific methods by referencing sources that are difficult to interpret whilst research supported by sound evidence is labelled and downplayed. On fake science websites first, check the hyperlinked articles. These websites will use sites with repeated content from disreputable sites. Next, look at the number of reposts a website has. Legitimate science posts are on credible websites. Some websites investigate websites that feature fake science. Ultimately, these websites thrive on users not having the time or skills to look deeper into the evidence, so doing so will help expose the fake websites.

By Antonio Rodrigues 

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