National Geographic : 2017 Jun
claiming the link were untrue, but testing them again a week later showed that their belief in the misinformation had bounced back to nearly the same level. Other studies have shown that evidence under- mining lies may in fact strengthen belief in them. “People are likely to think that familiar informa- tion is true. So any time you retract it, you run the risk of making it more familiar, which makes that retraction actually less effective, ironically, over the long term,” says Swire-Thompson. I experienced this phenomenon firsthand not long after I spoke to Swire-Thompson. When a friend sent me a link to an article ranking the 10 most corrupt political parties in the world, I promptly posted it to a WhatsApp group of about a hundred high school friends from India. The reason for my enthusiasm was that the fourth spot in the ranking was held by India’s Congress Party, which in recent decades has been implicat- ed in numerous corruption scandals. I chortled with glee because I’m not a fan of the party. But shortly after sharing the article, I dis- covered that the ranking, which included par- ties from Russia, Pakistan, China, and Uganda, wasn’t based on any metrics. It had been done by a site called BBC Newspoint, which sounded like a credible source. But I found out that it had no connection to the British Broadcasting Corpora- tion. I posted an apology to the group, noting that the article was in all likelihood fake news. That didn’t stop others from reposting the article to the group several times over the next day. I realized that the correction I’d posted had not had any effect. Many of my friends—because they shared my antipathy toward the Congress Party—were convinced the ranking was true, and every time they shared it, they were unwittingly, or perhaps knowingly, nudging it toward legiti- macy. Countering it with fact would be in vain. What then might be the best way to impede the fleet-footed advance of untruths into our col- lective lives? The answer isn’t clear. Technology has opened up a new frontier for deceit, adding a 21st-century twist to the age-old conflict between our lying and trusting selves. j in 1912 fossil enthusiast Charles Dawson and his collaborator Arthur Smith Woodward, a geologist at the British Natural History Museum, an- nounced the unearthing of humanlike skull fragments and an apelike jawbone from a gravel pit near Piltdown, Eng- land. Just a few years earlier, Dawson had written to Smith Woodward, saying he was “waiting for the big ‘find.’” But Piltdown man, initially hailed as the missing link connecting ape to human, was a fraud: The bones were stained to resemble ancient fossils, and the teeth, from an orangutan, had been filed down to appear human. hwang woo-suk: “I created an illu- sion and made it look as if it were real. I was drunk in the bubble I created.” The South Korean scientist claimed in 2004 that he had created a stem cell line from the world’s first cloned hu- man embryo. His data were fabricated. marmaduke wetherell: “We’ll give them their monster.” The British filmmaker had his stepson build a Loch Ness monster out of a toy submarine, using wood-plastic compos- ite for the head, which appeared in an infamous faked 1934 photograph. scientific falsehoods other famous fibs Piltdown man, a clever fabrication of a human ancestor, created a sensation. Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, a contributing writer, has also written about deception in his new book, The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell. He wrote about baby brains in December 2015. Dan Winters is an award-winning photographer based in Austin, Texas. This is his first assignment.