About the “NASA-funded study” about our inescapable doom

There’s a story from the Guardian going around the internets about a “NASA-funded study” that predicts the collapse of modern society. Ok, it’s not actually from the Guardian, but a blog hosted by them. It’s also not a NASA study, it just uses a model developed by NASA. Finally, they didn’t actually link to the paper, because it wasn’t published yet. If you don’t have that sinking feeling in your gut yet, you should. As Keith Kloor from Discover explains, it’s bad science.

I’m always suspicious when a story refers to a story but doesn’t give a link or even cite it properly. In this case, at least they didn’t misinterpret the original paper. The problem is that the paper itself is rubbish. If the original “reporter” (I’m not sure he deserves that term) had actually done any research or fact checking – on a paper that hadn’t yet been published, let alone be vetted by the scientific community – then he would have found some very conflicting opinions. Make no mistake: there are no facts here. Just a model and a lot of handwaving.

So, how can we prevent this kind of crap from filling up your news streams? Here’s a few tips:

  1. Check the source. A Guardian blog isn’t the same as being in the Guardian itself. The chances of a major story like this being broken in a blog is slim to none.
  2. Look for the actual paper it’s based on. While it isn’t the case here, I’ve often seen writers draw the exact opposite conclusion than the original authors of the paper. If the paper isn’t actual findable, your BS detector should be going off.
  3. Check the facts. Are there any facts? If so, can you verify them? We live in the days of the internet. You should be able to find independent sources with the same or at least similar facts. If all of the trails go back to the same source, then we have the potential for an internet-hoax.
  4. Are there any opposing points of view? If there’s only one source of information and no opposition, beware. This isn’t journalism, it’s an opinion.

Does this mean that they’re wrong? Well, no actually. It means that they aren’t necessarily right, or more precisely, we don’t have any evidence that they are right. Like a stopped clock, they could be right by accident. I don’t know about you, but I expect a little more reliability than that.

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