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You might have heard about those metered strikes that never happen. Or the fact that some islands in the world can only exist for a decade or so before being submerged by global warming, but they still exist half a century later. While global warming may be a threat, are we getting fake survival warnings to prepare ourselves when there is still time?
All major issues concerning individual nations like the 2016 Presidential election in US and the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom or those issues that are of concern to the whole world like the issue of global warming and climate change are threatened by fake news which can lead to catastrophic results. While the subject of fake news has gained a wider audience following the 2016 US election, fake news has still had a worrisome impact on us.
Fake news is not a recent phenomenon and has existed for a long time but its impact has become more widespread with the spread of the internet and social media. The fake news phenomenon has been aided by the rapid expansion of the digital medium and its capacity to deliver any message across the globe at lightening fast speed. It leads to a situation where such fake news can’t be checked, verified or challenged before it is made available worldwide.
Scientists grapple with fake news. Scientists studying climate change are grappling with this phenomenon of fake news which is able to sow the seeds of confusion in the minds of both the general public whose support is necessary to implement changes to save the environment as well as the decision makers who have the responsibility of making decisions which even if painful are necessary to stop further environmental damage.
In such a scenario it is necessary that scientists step up their efforts for wider dissemination of correct and factual data so that people become more science literate and can appreciate facts as they are and are not swayed by misinformation campaigns and deliberately leaked fake news. World bodies like the United Nations believes that the 2030 sustainable development goals can be met only if scientific literature and discoveries get a wider audience.
The misinformation campaigns and deliberately leaked fake news and controversies have led to a situation where polls both in the US and UK show that even though a large majority of scientists agree to the fact that climate change phenomenon of the modern era is largely fueled by human activities, the general populace is not aware of such unanimity on the issue while many believe that it is still an unsettled issue. Such a large scale denial of climate change and its causes is a direct result of the failure of the scientific community to effectively challenge fake news about the issue.
A change of habits is needed. In their quest of wider dissemination of correct and factual data, scientists must change their long ingrained habit of sharing information among the scientific community as their prime objective and instead must develop the habit of sharing their information not only with the scientific community but with the general public also.
In their pursuit of disseminating scientific information scientists must use the help of latest technological tools so that they are able to develop effective means of two-way communication with the general public. The new interdisciplinary field of translational ecology can help scientists work towards changing environmental research into public policy.
Turning the current scenario into one where society understands and appreciates their point of view and is able to ascertain and understand the facts about climate change is essential if environmental issues are to receive widespread support across the world. One of the ways by which we can support the growth of scientific temper is to know what fake news is and trying to stop it from spreading.
What is fake news? Ever since ancient times, rulers have indulged in slanting and planting news to serve their interests. But giving a slant to a news to suit one’s beliefs or ideology cannot be called fake news. Fake news can be described as a completely fabricated story without any basis that has been floated by vested interests to serve their own purpose.
We are also to blame! Today with the advent of the internet everyone from an individual to media to government have a share in the spread of fake news even though their motives to do so may vary from increasing political clout, to achieving financial goals or any personal agenda. But how to know whether the news is genuine or fake?
In sifting for fake news, look at the origins of the news. If it is carried by a legitimate source of news chances are that it will not be fake but if it has originated from sources you have not heard of or are known to be of dubious nature then you must take such news with a pinch of salt and verify it from a known authentic source before you start believing it. The most obvious solution for checking the spread of fake news is human intervention. Technology by itself cannot sift and segregate fake news. Realizing this dimension Facebook has started such a practice and has enlisted International Fact Checking Network to look into that news that users have flagged as deliberate fakes.
Stopping the spread of fake news, you yourself must start to take responsibility of what you share. Do not share anything on the social media without going into the detail of the story or the photograph. Check the source of the story or the photo you wish to circulate and only if they come from some reputable sources should you share them.
Also start the practice of pointing any fake news to its sender. Maybe they do not know the true facts and forwarded it thinking it to be true and you could help them stop the spread of such news.
Only such collective actions by the scientific community and the general public will help us in tackling environmental issues like climate change.
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