Carl Sagan’s Guide to fake news: The story behind the headline: “Japanese astronaut grows in space and now says he’s worried he won’t properly fit in the capsule bringing him back”

Only a day or so after this story made headlines, further reports were published by news outlets, for example, in the Guardian 10 Jan 2019, including the Independent, saying that Mr Kanai had made a mistake. According to the NASA website, the Soyuz capsule “accommodates individuals as large as 6 feet, 3 inches tall”. In his tweet posted at the time, Mr Kanai said that he was just shy of 6 feet (182 cm), thinking he had grown by 3.5 inches. As he had only been in space for 3 weeks, he was worried that if he continued to grow at the rate he had, he would no longer fit in the capsule. In his apology tweet, he explained that he had in fact only grown by around 2cm and didn’t realise how big the discussion surrounding his growth would become, claiming that his fault due to a “measurement mistake”.

The original story doesn’t provide “independent confirmation of the facts”, of the key fact, indeed, Kanai’s height. It is also short on specifics (how tall is Kanai to start with?) and ignores “Alternative hypotheses” (eg an mistake made in the measuring process). It is also doesn’t fit with Occam’s razor, wouldn’t it be simpler that he got the measurement rather then he grew more than anyone had ever previously grown in space? The newspapers are slightly guilty of “trust because of authority”, an Astronaut wouldn’t make a mistake like that would he?

If you want to find out more about this story or the baloney detection toolkit then please come to Carl Sagan’s guide to Fake News.

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