Jonathan Jarry’s job is to separate sense from nonsense in science, but he never imagined that creating a fake news video would end up being his most effective tool. Facebook users may be familiar with his latest video for McGill University’s Office for Science and Society (OSS)—it has 10 million views and counting. The video title screams for a click: "This NATURAL TRICK can CURE YOUR CANCER." The opening graphic offers another too-good-to-be-true promise: "This amazing cure for cancer has been known since the 1800s." The video tells the very fake story of Dr. Johan R. Tarjany, who in 1816 discovered a kind of moss that cures cancer, knowledge the video claims has been suppressed by pharmaceutical companies. The story gets better. Tarjany added the moss to his diet and never got cancer—and great news—even though the Food and Drug Administration has banned the moss, it’s available online. Just as you’re reaching for your credit card, celebrating your discovery while simultaneously cursing big pharma, the tale unravels. Thirty-nine seconds into the video, the truth is revealed: The video that you thought promised an easy answer instead is a hard lesson in media literacy and critical thinking. … Jarry said the idea came from a similar video a former coworker had shown him. It had six million views and purported to show a researcher who had discovered radio signals that could kill cancer cells. … He said it was frustrating because bunk science videos often reach far wider audiences than those his team puts together. On the McGill OSS YouTube page there are a number of videos explaining topics like sloppy food science and personalized genetic testing, but the views rank in the hundreds of thousands, not millions. "We don’t sell these easy solutions to complicated problems," Jarry said. "We sell nuance and criticism and uncertainty, and that doesn’t sell as well." … The video ends with a message to viewers: "Be skeptical, ask questions, consult doctors and scientists, and don’t fall for conspiracy theories dressed up in pretty packaging. Be skeptical because there's so much misinformation out there and be aware of your own biases. Be aware of the fact that you will be easily emotionally manipulated.
How a Canadian viral science video is teaching a lesson about online health hoaxes,
CBC News (Canada), Jul. 15, 2018
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