What is it about social media stories that are so bizarre yet people have a need to believe them?
As I tweeted a few days ago after seeing this story go around, no, no one cloned a dinosaur. It’s a baby kangaroo and YOU SHOULDN’T BELIEVE THE STUFF YOU READ ON YOUR FRIENDS’ FACEBOOK WALLS!
The news: A story from hoax site News-Hound claiming that British scientists from Liverpool’s John Moore University have successfully cloned an Apatosaurus is getting a lot of traction on the Internet this weekend. But … no, they haven’t.
Never mind the lack of sources, links or the various ludicrous stories lining News-Hound’s sidebar (the name Gemma Sheridan, for example, was used in a previous hoax claiming Google Earth found a woman trapped on an island for seven years). Or that it would take approximately 10 seconds to verify that the photo of a “dinosaur” baby is actually a newborn, furless macropod (a kangaroo or wallaby). Somehow some people bought it…
A lot of people bought it or wanted to, wishing it was true. Of course we wish it’s true. That’s not a good excuse to pass it on to others. Even though we pass satire or jokes along realizing they are just for fun, (I know it’s hard to believe) but some people can’t tell it’s a joke! [Understanding the #CancelColbert Campaign]
The public really isn’t up on the state of science to know that we are no where near being able to clone a dinosaur. There is no such thing as a Jurassic Park. However, people get their sense of science from the media. When the media is messy and distorted, as it is, it is difficult to tell what is genuine or what has perhaps a grain of truth to it but it not quite right. This is why paranormal investigators and Bigfoot hunters are depicted on TV as doing “science”. This is why people are fooled by those in white lab coats promoting utter nonsense. This is why people think homeopathy is medicine. It’s a stretch but our lack of science literacy does hurt us and make us look foolish in all sorts of ways.
The next time you see a story like this, check the source. Find a good science website or just Google it to see if it shows up on reputable news sites. It takes a minute but it prevents you from looking like a doofus.
Here is a way to test pictures you find on the web. See how to debunk viral photos in seconds using image search | Skeptical Software Tools.