Tania Lombrozo

About a dozen years ago, as I was preparing to leave Cambridge, Mass., for Berkeley, Calif., I took to carrying around a small camera on my walks to and from work and home.

I was hoping to capture something about the place and my time there before setting off for the West Coast.

During the past two years, fake news has been a frequent topic of real news, with articles considering the role of social media in spreading fake news, the advent of fake videos and the role these play in the political process.

Something less well-known, though, is that fake news has also become a topic of scientific investigation.

On March 7, 1907 — almost 111 years ago to the day — the English statistician Francis Galton published a peculiar observation.

At a county fair held in Plymouth, 800 visitors had participated in a competition to guess the weight of an ox. While most people's estimates were too high or too low — falling an average of 37 lbs. away from the true weight of 1,198 lbs. — the median of everyone's guess was off by only 9 lbs., or less than 1 percent of the true weight of the ox.

Tania Lombrozo is a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley. She writes about psychology, cognitive science and philosophy, with occasional forays into parenting and veganism. You can keep up with more of what she is thinking on Twitter: @TaniaLombrozo

At a conference last week, I received an interesting piece of advice:

"Assume you are wrong."

The advice came from Brian Nosek, a fellow psychology professor and the executive director of the Center for Open Science. Nosek wasn't objecting to any particular claim I'd made — he was offering a strategy for pursuing better science, and for encouraging others to do the same.

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