Project Ratio

“Fake news,” broadly defined as false or misleading information masquerading as legitimate news, is frequently asserted to be pervasive online with serious consequences for democracy. The rise of fake news highlights the erosion of long-standing institutional bulwarks against misinformation in the internet age. Particularly, since the 2016 US presidential election, the deliberate spread of misinformation on social media has generated extraordinary concern, in large part because of its potential effects on public opinion, political polarization, and ultimately democratic decision making. Inspired by “solution-oriented research”, the project Ratio aims to foster a news ecosystem and culture that values and promotes authenticity and truth.

However, proper understanding of misinformation and its effects requires a much broader view of the problem, encompassing biased and misleading–but not necessarily factually incorrect–information that is routinely produced or amplified by mainstream news organizations. Much remains unknown regarding the vulnerabilities of individuals, institutions, and society to manipulations by malicious actors. Project Ratio measures the origins, nature, and prevalence of misinformation, broadly construed, as well as its impact on democracy. We strive for objective and credible information, providing a first-of-its-kind at scale, real-time, cross-platform mapping of news content, as it moves through the “information funnel,” from news production, through distribution and discovery, consumption, and absorption.


Before the 2016 Election


After the 2016 election

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Duncan Watts

Stevens University Professor & twenty-third Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor

David Rothschild

Research Scientist @ Microsoft

Homa Hosseinmardi

Research Scientist


Rebuilding legitimacy in a post-truth age

Duncan J. Watts and David Rothschild.

The current state of public and political discourse is in disarray. Outright fake news stories circulate on social media. The result has been a called a post-truth age, in which evidence, scientific understanding, or even just logical consistency have become increasingly irrelevant to political argumentation.

Don’t blame the election on fake news. Blame it on the media.

Duncan J. Watts and David Rothschild.

Since the 2016 presidential election, an increasingly familiar narrative has emerged concerning the unexpected victory of Donald Trump. Fake news, was amplified on social networks. We believe that the volume of reporting around fake news, and the role of tech companies in disseminating those falsehoods, is both disproportionate to its likely influence in the outcome of the election and diverts attention from the culpability of the mainstream media itself.

The science of fake news

David M. J. Lazer, Matthew A. Baum, Yochai Benkler, Adam J. Berinsky, Kelly M. Greenhill, Filippo Menczer, Miriam J. Metzger, Brendan Nyhan, Gordon Pennycook, David Rothschild, Michael Schudson, Steven A. Sloman, Cass R. Sunstein, Emily A. Thorson, Duncan J. Watts and Jonathan L. Zittrain.

The rise of fake news highlights the erosion of long-standing institutional bulwarks against misinformation in the internet age. We discuss extant social and computer science research regarding belief in fake news and the mechanisms by which it spreads.




The burgeoning and rise of big data results in salience of the quantity of data, nourishing the soil for qualitative research and analysis, addressing social, economic, cultural and ethical implications and issues of social science. Converging computer science and social science, the project Ratio suggests use-inspired intellectual research style and data-driven methodological directions for computational social science, yielding a diversity of perspectives on explanation, understanding, and prediction of information flow and impact. Collaborating with various data providers, currently including Nielsen, PeakMetric, TVEyes and Harmony Labs, we seek to establish a large-scale data infrastructure for studying the production, distribution, consumption, absorption in the information ecosystem, illuminating each aspect of research on “fake news” in-depth and in-width.

Warped Front Pages

Warped Front Pages

Seven years ago, in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, media analysts rushed to explain Donald Trump’s victory. Misinformation was to blame, the theory went, fueled by Russian agents and carried on social networks. But as researchers, we wondered if fascination and fear over “fake news” had led people to underestimate the influence of traditional journalism outlets. After all, mainstream news organizations remain an important part of the media ecosystem—they’re widely read and watched; they help set the agenda, including on social networks.

Mapping the Murky Waters: The Promise of Integrative Experiment Design

My PhD journey began with a clear vision: to unravel the interplay between social network structures and their collective outcomes. I was particularly interested in the collective intelligence arising in those structures. With several projects already underway on this topic, I felt prepared. Perhaps optimistically, or some might think naively, I chose to tackle the literature review of my dissertation —often considered the “easy part”— during the first year of my PhD. always been interested in how people think, something that drew him to study literature as an undergraduate, and, now, to investigate the intersection between public opinion, local news, and politics. 

Are experimental designs one-size-fits-all? Or should they be modified to encapsulate the complexity of human behavior?

Are experimental designs one-size-fits-all? Or should they be modified to encapsulate the complexity of human behavior?

In the social and behavioral sciences, a theory provides a generalizable explanation that holds under a variety of specific conditions, and experiments are conducted to verify hypotheses which are derived from the theory. This process has become the dominant methodology under which scientific development occurs one experiment at a time, also known as the one-at-a-time approach.

Researcher Spotlight: Jorge Barreras Cortes

Researcher Spotlight: Jorge Barreras Cortes

Having just earned his Ph.D. in applied math in December, Jorge “Paco” Barreras Cortes kicks off 2023 as a fully fledged post-doctoral researcher at the CSSLab. He has driven the Lab’s work on epidemic modeling since 2020, grappling with the types of data, machine learning, and network science quandaries that underpin the toughest challenges in the field. Read on to learn more about his research journey in this month’s Researcher Spotlight.

Call for Abstracts opens for IC²S² 2023

Call for Abstracts opens for IC²S² 2023

Abstract submissions are now open for IC²S² 2023, the premier conference for interdisciplinary researchers interested in using computational and data-intensive methods to address societally relevant problems.