John Jones, M.S. Biotechnology
Johns Hopkins Alumnus
Most articles found on social media that are contrarian to established science can be classified as science denial or misinformation. It is important to note that some of these posts, like logical fallacies, are addressed in the peer-review process of presenting scientific data. That is why it’s imperative to get your information from primary source materials, or, if you’re not well-versed in scientific language, from people with the requisite expertise and knowledge to interpret data accurately. It’s understandable that, when confronted with unknown or uncomfortable situations, people may create scenarios in their minds that allow them to cope with this uncertainty, and these may run counter to rationality or good scientific logic.
The novel coronavirus is a perfect example of how change and societal upheaval serve as fertile soil for conspiracy theories and the drive to share information that aligns with personal or social biases. One of the challenges in preventing the spread of misinformation is tied directly to a readers’ ability to determine the veracity of articles, blogs, and videos, and to discern pseudoscience from testable, repeatable data. That discernment isn’t natural, and it comes from exposure to and trust in the scientific process. There’s also a tangible marketing aspect to how information is presented via social media.
Headlines are often crafted to elicit a response while providing minimal context, leading to quick and easy “shares” without people necessarily reading even the first sentence in the article. For instance, those of us that are knowledgeable have the responsibility as members of the scientific community to “call out” pseudoscience and provide data when available to prevent half-truths from being propagated. It’s also our responsibility to teach our family and friends ways to fact check or verify claims being made, especially during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, where misinformation can jeopardize the safety of communities. Helping people understand that blogs, youtube videos, and online forums don’t necessarily have to meet the same rigorous requirements as published peer-reviewed research, could potentially go a long way in helping combat misinformation.
Advising people to utilize websites such as Snopes, metafact, and factcheck before clicking “share” could help ensure that timelines and media feeds aren’t filled with misinformation at the expense of useful information that could protect and improve quality of life during this viral outbreak. Many people are seeking comfort and certainty while battling an invisible foe, turning to any form of information that offers an explanation. I believe it is our responsibility as scientists to make sure that our friends, family, and the community at-large are using the correct ammunition.
Liu, Dennis W C. “Science denial and the science classroom.” CBE life sciences education vol. 11,2 (2012): 129-34. doi:10.1187/cbe.12-03-0029;