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Penn professor Duncan Watts created a framework for researching misinformation and its impact on democracy. Credit: Diego Cárdenas Uribe

A  Penn professor published a study that attempts to improve how researchers analyze misinformation in the media.

The study, published last week in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, created a framework for researching misinformation and its impact on democracy, Penn Today reported. The study was co-authored by Duncan Watts, a Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor with appointments in the Annenberg School for Communication, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the Wharton School, and researchers at Microsoft Research.

Alongside “outright lies," misinformation includes more subtle methods of deception, such as data cherry picking, misrepresenting the relationship between cause and correlation, and the way facts are presented, Watts told Penn Today. Misinformation is also not limited to social media, and is influenced by television, radio, and print publications.

“We really have to be thinking expansively about the parts of the information ecosystem that might be causing some of these problems,” Watts told Penn Today.

Watts and his colleagues identified four objectives for the research community in order to best address misinformation: building a research infrastructure to make data accessible, establishing a collaborative research model, informing the public, and creating partnerships outside of academia, Penn Today reported. 

In March, Watts started the Computational Social Science lab at Penn to further his objectives. The lab will not be fully open until the fall, but some of its current projects are focused around studying misinformation, media sources, and working with data providers to improve data quality for researchers, Penn Today reported.

Last year, Annenberg's FactCheck.org developed a guide to debunking misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to debunk myths surrounding the disease.

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