Fighting fake news in Kazakhstan: The case of the university rankings

FactCheck.kz is on a mission to prove it

In an age of rumours, fake news, and downright lies, the actions of organizations like Kazakhstan’s FactCheck.kz (on Twitter) are a welcome addition to our daily struggle for the truth. With a mission for ‘the right to the truth’ (which works beautifully in Russian as pravo na pravdu – право на правду), they are the first Central Asian based fact-checking resource.

Run by professional and experienced journalists, FactCheck.kz aims to provide the public with reliable independent information from trustworthy sources and, as they say oh so politely, ‘provide an incentive to those who make big claims to be more attentive to the information they provide’.

I came across their work after they ran a fact check on a claim made by the country’s leading university, Al-Farabi Kazakh National University (KNU), that they had been listed as ‘one of Europe’s leading universities’ after receiving a high ‘AA+’ score on a ranking exercise by the Academic Ranking of World Universities – European Standard (ARES).

FactCheck.kz’s verdict?

Manipulation

Firstly, FactCheck.kz points out that this particular university ranking does not compare Kazakh universities with their European counterparts. The ranking uses a ‘European system of assessment’, although as FactCheck.kz notes, their methodology isn’t entirely transparent to begin with, and is geographically incomplete.

Secondly, FactCheck.kz records that the ranking lists each country’s results separately – it covers Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia. While KNU comes out top in the Kazakhstan ranking, there is no comparison either with the other countries, or with leading European universities.

There you have it: clear, simple and to the point. It’s exactly this kind of evidence informed reporting that can help inform and engage a sceptical public to find truth among the headlines.

However, the misleading text is still on the KNU website as of June 10, some two weeks after the FactCheck.kz story was published.

KNU is unarguably an excellent university – indeed, a news release on their site published on June 10 loudly proclaims that they are now among the 200 top universities in the world. Let us see what FactCheck.kz has to say about that.

4 thoughts on “Fighting fake news in Kazakhstan: The case of the university rankings

    1. Here’s another interesting thing – it does indeed refer to the ranking which uses ARES as its acronym (which I’ve added to the text for clarification) but the ranking is named in the press release by KNU as the ‘authoritative European ranking «Academic Ranking of World Universities-European Standard» (ARES)’…

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  1. Mohammad Shahidul Islam

    Interesting topic! I think you know much more than I know about these fact-checking. There has been a growing trend of fact-checking organizations. In many countries, fact-checking is done by the government-run organization. What if the true information i.e. the facts go against the government. Do you think that the governments will objectively verify the fact and share it in public? Look at the news agencies these days. When created, these agencies were to share information i.e. the fact and then they started sharing their opinion. Now, all agencies belong to one camp or the other.

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    1. Thanks Mohammad – yes, it is an interesting topic. I don’t know much about fact-checking organizations but it seems like a good idea to have an independent body keep track of what is being said. It doesn’t seem like it would be a good idea for governments to run them, though – definitely a conflict of interest!

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