Never in history has so much information been instantly available to so many with so little effort. Anyone with a smart phone and an Internet connection can in a moment access vast amounts of data on just about any subject. However, although it may significantly influence our beliefs, most of this information is unfiltered and has never being subjected to the fact-checking scrutiny provided in the past by journalists, editors and peer review. This makes it difficult to distinguish between fact, conjecture, propaganda and nonsense. Recent psychological research can inform us about the impact of “alternative facts” and “fake news” on our beliefs and offer guidance when deceit and folly masquerade as truth on a massive scale.
James Alcock is professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, Canada. He is a fellow and member of the Executive Council of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and a member of the Editorial Board of the Skeptical Inquirer.