Scholars present API-sponsored research at fact-checking summit this week

FCP logoHow does the work of fact-checking journalists affect other journalists? Why are some people so confident in their misperceptions? And what’s the effect of ratings like “Pants on Fire” and four Pinocchios?

Researchers working with the American Press Institute discussed their projects and initial findings at Wednesday’s “Truth in Politics 2014” summit in Arlington, Va.  Their final reports will be released next year, but participants at the summit sponsored by API got a sneak peek yesterday.

Emily Thorson of George Washington University presented research investigating misperceptions about public policy — for example, that China holds the majority of U.S. debt. Her research suggests not only that these “public myths” are widespread, but also that those who hold them are often very confident that they are true. Thorson’s research will outline how journalists can cover public policy debates in ways that help correct these misperceptions.

Michelle Amazeen of Rider University presented research on a common debate in the fact-checking world: whether to include a rating scale like PolitiFact’s “pants on fire” or just a “contextual” explanation. Amazeen’s initial results indicate that a combination of a rating icon and a contextual definition may be most effective, but that for some issues, partisan readers will be no more persuaded even with the inclusion of contextual explanation. Other scholars working on this project are Ashley Muddiman at the University of Wyoming, Lucas Graves from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, along with Thorson.

Another study underway by Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College, Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter, along with Graves, is examining whether journalists specifically designated as fact checkers affect how other journalists cover politics.

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  1. Read The Washington Post's article on API research.