China Exclusive: Chinese website wages war on rumors

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, November 20, 2012
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"Can you put a light bulb in your mouth and then take it out?"

This query will return a raft of results telling how bold experimenters have ended up in hospital after they were unable to get light bulbs out of their mouths.

But a Chinese website says these stories are bogus. To better convince its audience, one of its editors personally popped various sizes of bulbs into his mouth, and smoothly, if not elegantly, pulled them out.

The video was posted on Guokr, a popular science website, garnering much applause. "I used to trust the bulb theory because there are so many similar stories, but this experiment disproves (the stories) beyond any doubt," one netizen commented.

The editor, dubbed "Bulb Brother," has volunteered himself to serve as the guinea pig in a string of experiments designed to discredit rumors, including one widely-circulated claim that it is lethal to simultaneously eat Mentos and drink Coca-Cola.

These experiments are among the website's many moves to debunk rumors and throw light on pseudoscientific theories floating around online.

Guokr, which translates as "nutshell," is dedicated to promoting science among the public by making scientific knowledge "fun" and accessible to ordinary people.

It celebrated its second anniversary last Saturday.

Founded by a group of scientists, artists, doctors and food experts in 2010, the website has gathered experts from different fields for fun discussions on science-related issues. Its most popular section, "Rumor Pulverizer," has taken on topics from "Why is 2012 said to be doomsday?" to "Are microwave ovens harmful to health?"

"We focus on rumors that are linked to current affairs or those that have triggered heated online discussions," said Xu Lai, the site's chief editor.

The website has been credited with helping to cool a buying spree on salt following Japan's Fukushima nuclear meltdown in April 2011. Capitalizing on the fact that it is not affiliated with any government organs or institutions, the website won over Chinese netizens by tackling rumors that the future supply of the condiment might be contaminated or that it could protect people against radiation.

In May, the website debunked a food scandal in which fruit sellers were accused of injecting watermelons with sodium cyclamate and pigments to enhance the fruits' color and sweetness.

"After conducting experiments using the same measures as mentioned in the media reports, we found that the injected chemicals could not spread inside the melons but only made them rot faster," Xu said.

Experts said incidences of false rumors are on the rise on China's Internet due to growing public fear of unsafe food and other flawed products as well as their waning trust in rumor refutations issued by government or other "official" sources.

Media and publications specializing in science could aid in the campaign against rumors, but they generally lack influence among the Chinese public, said Li Daguang, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"Guokr is a rare exception -- with its skillful use of social networking platforms and grassroots language, the website has succeeded in spreading scientific truths among Chinese netizens," Li said.

The website has about 600,000 followers on Sina Weibo, a popular microblogging site. In addition to its section on discrediting rumors, it also hosts online discussions and off-line lectures to promote a better understanding of everyday topics like astrology and smartphones.

"Science is already a subculture among young city residents. For example, there are a lot of scientific elements in popular movies and TV series on detectives and forensic doctors," Xu, the website's editor, said.

"By making science fun, we strive to mix it into the youth culture and increase its appeal among the young people," he said. Enditem

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