Circular reporting, or false confirmation, is a situation in source criticism where a piece of information appears to come from multiple independent sources, but in reality comes from only one source. In many cases, the problem happens mistakenly through sloppy reporting or intelligence-gathering. However, the situation can also be intentionally contrived by the source or reporter as a way of reinforcing the widespread belief in its information.
This problem occurs in a variety of fields, including intelligence gathering, journalism, and scholarly research. It is of particular concern in military intelligence because the original source has a higher likelihood of wanting to pass on misinformation, and because the chain of reporting is more prone to being obscured. It is also a problem in journalism and the development of conspiracy theories, in which the primary goal of a source spreading unlikely or hard-to-believe information is to make it appear to be widely known.
Author Alex Haley grew up hearing the oral history that his family's first ancestor to enter the United States was a young man named Kunta Kinte, who lived near the Kamby Bolongo, or Gambia River, and was kidnapped into slavery when out gathering wood. As an adult, Haley researched his family genealogy for what would become the novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family, and he traveled to the Gambia in an attempt to confirm the family history of Kinte. Haley told the story of Kinte to a seminar of Gambian tribal experts, who searched for a griot—an oral historian—who might be able to confirm the story. Ultimately, Haley met a man named Kebba Fofana in the town of Juffure who was able to relate a story of Kunta Kinte that was strikingly similar to Haley's lifelong family history, an apparent confirmation that grounded Haley's novel (as well as the landmark miniseries adapted from the novel). After publication, however, it was discovered that griot oral histories were not reliable for dates before the 19th century, that Fofana was not a true griot, and that Fofana's confirmation of Haley's history was ultimately a retelling of the story Haley himself told Gambian experts.
In 2001, the Niger uranium forgeries, documents initially released by SISMI (the former military intelligence agency of Italy), seemed to depict an attempt made by Saddam Hussein in Iraq to purchase yellowcake uranium powder from Niger during the Iraq disarmament crisis. They were referenced by other intelligence agencies to convince their governments or public that such a purchase had taken place.
In 2014, the Chairman of the US Senate Report on Pre-war Intelligence on Iraq told NBC's Tim Russert that a single informant, 'Curveball' "had really provided 98 percent of the assessment as to whether or not the Iraqis had a biological weapon." This was in despite the fact that "nobody inside the U.S. government had ever actually spoken to the informant—except [for a single] Pentagon analyst, who concluded the man was an alcoholic and utterly useless as a source."
In early 2012, a TV Tropes user named Tunafish claimed that a bug existed in Civilization that caused Gandhi to be much more aggressive. Tunafish did not provide any proof. The repetition of this false information led to the "Nuclear Gandhi" internet meme.
In 2018, Shehroze Chaudhry was identified as an active member of the Islamic State who participated in the killing of several individuals, through reporting involving a The New York Times podcast, among others. The podcast and other outlets referenced blog posts authored by Chaudhry starting in 2016. The podcast was taken by government officials and others as evidence of the crime; however, the original posts were unverified and later renounced by the author.
Wikipedia is sometimes criticized for being used as a source of circular reporting, particularly a variant where an unsourced claim in a Wikipedia article is repeated by a reliable source, often without citing the article; which is then added as a source to the claim on Wikipedia.
The first recorded use of the term citogenesis to describe this phenomenon was in November 2011, when Randall Munroe used it in an xkcd comic strip. The neologism is attributed as being a homophonic wordplay on 'cytogenesis', the formation, development and variation of biological cells.
An article in the magazine Slate referenced the four-step process described in the comic, to raise awareness about the risks of Wikipedia-mediated citogenesis. This type of circular reporting has been described as particularly hard-to-catch because of the speed of revisions of modern webpages, and the lack of "as of" timestamps in citations and "last updated" timestamps on pages online.
Wikipedia advises researchers and journalists to be wary of, and generally avoid, using Wikipedia as a direct source, and to focus instead on verifiable information found in an article's cited references. Researchers and Wikipedians alike are advised to note the retrieved-on date of any web citation, to support identification of the earliest source of a claim.
Prominent examples of false claims that were propagated on Wikipedia and in news sources because of circular reporting:
Separately, Wikipedia is known to have contributed to the current popular naming of the home video game console generations. Home consoles were known to progress by technology generations by the time of Wikipedia's inception, but no formal system or means of classifying them had been proposed outside of broad terms such as "8-bit" or "16-bit" (related to the word length used by the consoles' processors). Wikipedia editors created their own system based on ordinal numbers ("First generation", etc.) around the same time that academics were starting to publish their own assessments of console generations. The video game community took to Wikipedia's system as the industry default, which propagated back to Wikipedia as future console generations were released, overriding the academic analysis of console generations.
Circular reporting occurs when what is reported is fed back to the originator in revised fashion which makes it difficult to objectively view the end product until you can trace back the sources to determine where the original information actually came from. Pan Am would eventually try to play that game by trying to introduce into court news reports that they themselves had a hand in producing.[self-published source]
This became a classic case of circular reporting," said a U.S. intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to reporters. "It seemed like we were hearing it from lots of places. People didn't realize it was the same bad information coming in different doors. This is an interesting example of circular reporting.
Coati (also known as the Brazilian aardvark): found in Cumbria
There are also about 10 Brazilian aardvark in Cumbria
There are thought to be ten coatis, a kind of Brazilian aardvark, in Cumbria
In the case of the Coati, for instance, also known as the Brazilian aardvark, Buffon explained that "Marcgrave, and practically all of the Naturalists after him, said that the aardvark had six toes in its hind feet: M. Brisson is the only one who has not copied this error of Marcgrave."
He once hitchhiked around the Pacific Rim countries