Fake and fungal news

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By David Poulson

It is weirdly fascinating to track who republishes Echo stories.

Sometimes our reports about asbestos may show up in the newsletter of a personal injury law firm. Our story about a court case involving the keeping of exotic animals showed up in Big Cat Trust, an operation that tracks news about big cats.

An Illinois recycling group republished an Echo story about pavement sealants.

Recently an Echo report about a fungal disease in snakes was carried by something called Fungus Fact Friday. That’s right.  Someone curates news stories about all things fungal.

On Fridays.

There is a news service for fungus? Such intense fractionalization of news has all kinds of implications for an evolving media.

I won’t get into those here. What catches my eye is that these secondary publishers are grappling with fake news and credibility – just like the rest of us.

It’s not just something fought between President Trump’s administration and the national media. Nor is it just a challenge for your local newspaper struggling to remain credible and profitable. Even the person who aggregates Fungus Fact Friday is worried. At the top of that website:

“With the growing concern over untrustworthy news sources and the media’s tendency to inaccurately report scientific studies, can these sources be trusted? Yes they can, with a bit of caution. I have checked to make sure all the articles based on scientific papers draw from peer-reviewed journals and that they accurately reflect the content of the papers. For articles not linked to scientific papers, I try to stick to sources with a good track record in reporting on science or to local sources for region-specific information. However, I encourage you to do your own research and decide for yourself whether these sources are trustworthy.”

Good advice. But there is no way readers can vet everything they read. If you’re double checking the facts about snake fungus, chances are you distrust near everything.

Distrust of media is just the most high profile of an increasing distrust of many of our institutions.  It represents an obstacle for producing a literate populace willing to challenge long-held beliefs.  It makes it darn near impossible to foster a civil discussion.

And it runs deep.

I’m pleased Echo merits the credible news endorsement of Fungus Fact Friday. I’m troubled that someone felt compelled to provide it.

David Poulson, the senior associate director of Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, is the editor of Great Lakes Echo.

One thought on “Fake and fungal news

  1. Of course I fact check anything that sounds remotely far-fetched. The reason people don’t trust science has little to do with science or scientists. They don’t trust because of the second-hand news they’ve gotten. Try it. Trace a headline that says “Science [sic] Proves [virtually anything] to the original study, if you can. You’ll find something like a .000004% increase in cancer reported and the so-called journalists are indicating solid proof that grilled cheese should never be fed to anyone, except as a last meal.

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