Scientists Devise Fake News 'Vaccine'

Climate Change
Demonstrators gather protesting climate change in New York, U.S., January 9, 2017. Scientists have found a way to counter climate change misinformation. Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Cambridge University scientists have devised a "vaccine" that could help stop the spread of some " fake news."

In a study titled Inoculating the Public Against Misinformation About Climate Change, researchers compare the spread of disinformation to a virus moving from person to person.

Their analysis suggests that "pre-emptively highlighting false claims and refuting potential counterarguments" can make people less vulnerable to the falsehoods; much like exposing people to a small dose of a disease during vaccination.

"In medicine, resistance to a virus can be conferred by exposing someone to a weakened version of the virus," the study said, "The social–psychological theory of attitudinal inoculation follows a similar logic: A threat is introduced by forewarning people that they may be exposed to information that challenges their existing beliefs or behaviors."

The study focused on myths spread about about climate change.

In a survey of more than 2,000 U.S. residents, the researchers found that presenting people with scientific news alongside misinformation led to the falsehood being more widely believed.

However, in a second example, it was found that presenting the same fake news as a warning led to respondents going with the truth.

"These findings suggest that, when possible, communicating the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change should be accompanied by information that forewarns the public that politically or economically motivated actors may seek to undermine the findings of climate science," the study said.

fake news facebook study stanford
Chris Barber, a student at Stanford University, uses a laptop computer as he conducts business from his dorm room, Stanford, California, June 11, 2014. A study from Stanford suggests most students are unable to tell the difference between real and fake news. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

Concerns about "fake news" have been high on the political agenda since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump.

At the weekend, Trump engaged the media in a row over the numbers of people who attended his Inauguration ceremony.

Senior Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway said on the Meet The Press TV show that Trump's press secretary Sean Spicer had been presenting "alternative facts" rather than falsehoods when he claimed against pictorial evidence that Trump's inauguration had been the biggest ever.