U-M Researchers Study Internet Misinformation

Plus, other findings from across the Mitten State
Misinformation illustration: IStock

In this month’s Science Mitten, we look at projects from the University of Michigan that studied internet misinformation and created a map of the universe. We also highlight a report from Michigan State University that explored the efficiency of photosynthesis.

Surprise! The internet is full of lies!

This may come as a big shock, but people who get their health-related news from social media and lesser-known websites believe more misinformation than folks who rely on more traditional, mainstream media, according to a study of media habits in the United States, Singapore, and Turkey. Researchers from the University of Michigan and scientists in both other countries surveyed more than 3,600 people about their views on vaccines, genetically modified foods, and alternative medicine. Respondents who sought information from “legacy” news outlets were less likely to fall for incorrect ideas about health matters “perhaps because of editorial gatekeeping differences across news, social, and alternative media,” says researcher and U-M communications professor Scott Campbell.

You say potato, they say photosynthesis

Plants are pretty inefficient in how they use solar energy to grow and produce crops — so fixing that could help farmers grow a lot more food, according to a report in the journal Food and Energy Security, authored by Michigan State University researchers Heather Roney and Berkley Walker. The duo calculated and collected data on every major energy input and output needed to grow, transport, and cook french fries and compared them to photosynthetic efficiencies of potato crops. They determined that there is 80 times more wasted energy in the natural crop-growing process than what it takes people to cultivate, harvest, ship, and prepare fries. “The theoretical improvements to photosynthesis proposed in this publication are key to a second green revolution, where more energy from the sun is incorporated in farming, while using less fossil fuels,” Roney says.

But is it better than Google?

It took just seven months into a five-year endeavor for the folks at the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument to create what is being called “the largest and most detailed map of the universe ever.” DESI, located near Tucson, was designed and built as a joint project of the University of Michigan, the University of California Berkeley, and the U.S. Department of Energy, among others. U-M students built DESI’s 5,000 robotic “eyes” — incredibly high-tech light-collecting fibers — which every 15 minutes are reconfigured to point to different patches of deep space and map what they “see.” “DESI is one of the most complex instruments fielded on a telescope,” says physicist Gregory Tarlé, who leads the U-M Dark Energy group and who led the DESI fiber positioner construction project. “If we can keep DESI working for the entire five-year survey as well as it has so far, we can expect great science to result.”

This story is part of the March 2022 issue of Hour Detroit. Read more in our digital edition