What is Real?

I have always been a scifi junkie even before I knew that was genre term. I can remember as a grade school kid checking out all of the books about ghosts, the Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot and the Bermuda Triangle. I remember being disappointed when I had read everything on those topics in my public library. As I got older I branched out into aliens and conspiracy theories.  When the X-Files came out it was like seeing my public library bookshelf had added new titles and gone on TV.

All of those books, movies and TV shows dealt with what was real and what was fake.  Is there really a Bigfoot or is somebody walking around with really big fake feet?  Are there really ghosts or is it a shadow, lens flare, or active imagination?  The question of what is real, is always at the forefront.  You have the absolute believers who I think if they saw me early in the morning yelling at my kids to get ready for school would think demonic possession (I’m scary in so many ways in the morning).  You have the complete skeptics who can’t explain and discount a mother that had a bad feeling about her son, who unknown to her at the time was in a car accident in another city.

The question of what is real and fake has gone mainstream.  As I mentioned in my previous post, Masters of Illusion, you have more questionable types of “organizations” producing journals and holding conferences.  As CTVNews reported, you have questionable companies buying up reputable scientific journals.  For example, OMICS recently purchased several respected Canadian medical journals.  This is a cause for concern because the U.S. Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against OMICS, “alleging that the company is ‘deceiving academics and researchers about the nature of its publications’ and falsely claiming that its journals follow rigorous peer-review protocols.”

We live in a Wag the Dog world.  Where technology and communication have made it difficult to tell the difference between real news/research and fabricated.  The mud slinging and fact twisting of previous Presidential elections seems so quaint compared to the outright fake news about both candidates that flooded people’s dashboards and “news streams.”  We have people questioning reputable news organizations and claiming they are either fake news agencies or report on fake news.

How does the Presidential election fake news mess impact problem of fake scientific research and publishing.  It doesn’t, but it illustrates how fake information can easily be taken for real and how real information can be then called fake by opposition.  Take the example vaccines causing autism. There is not one reputable study that can show that vaccines cause autism.  The whole debacle was caused by a researcher who faked his research (funded by solicitors seeking evidence against vaccines) and published in The Lancet, a reputable journal, that there was a link to vaccines and autism. The Lancet has since retracted the article.  You have faked research/information which was believed to be real by the people. Now that it is proven to be fake you still have people believing in the fake research questioning the real research and calling it fake. They believe in the fake research and disbelieve the real research so much that people say the researcher is a scapegoat.

The lines between real and fake research and real and fake news have become entangled, making me wonder how it can be fixed.  Jeffrey Beall’s list of predatory journals has been disappeared.  Inside Higher Ed,  quotes a spokesperson for CU Denver (Beall’s employer) that “Beall made a ‘personal decision’ to take down the website.” There is much speculation online as to why he made this personal decision.  Reputable publishers do their best to sniff out fake research.  However, if reputable publishers publish questionable journal issues funded by drug companies and reputable publishers are bought by questionable companies it paints a picture of an industry that has problems policing itself.  Who is left to determine what is real and what is fake?

Which leaves me to end this post with a quote from one my favorite scifi movies, The Matrix.

Boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Boy: There is no spoon.

 

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