The Power of Misinformation: A Rise of Anti Scientific Views

Chevonne Powell • 2021 Science Communication Series Cohort



This past year could definitely be known as the year of misinformation. The amount of pseudoscience that has been presented as fact has increased this year. But surprisingly, this did not come out of nowhere, this is a situation that has been building for the past several decades, but it was not until now that it gained such prominence. There are several factors that could be contributing to this rise in anti-science views, but one that is incredibly concerning is the growing trend in pseudoscience ideologies and behaviors. We have many examples, from the current COVID-19 pandemic, with people’s explanations of the current pandemic ranging from assumptions attempting to explain the origin of the virus to people denouncing the vaccines due to fear of it being a ploy from the government or something much more insidious, like microchipping. All of the speculation definitely seems to have a bit of a dystopian undertone. Why is this happening?


To this you can say that although this seems like a sudden outcrop of dissent, it is not rooted in nothing. The issue goes a lot deeper than that. There has always been an opposition to science, this can be dated back to the Enlightenment period, and has been happening in waves since then [4]. Even then, people were having these debates. But looking more recently, with the growth of the field of science it may seem difficult to think of why there would be such push back against a field that is arguably beneficial for everyone. The answer is not so easy. The anti- science community is fairly heterogeneous, but there are different motivations, typically, based on political or religious views, culture, and general background [6], [7]. The rift between religion and science is not new. The relationship between the two is quite complicated as it has changed a lot over time in the last couple of centuries. Currently though, it is common to see people citing their religious beliefs as reasoning as to why they may have hesitations for believing certain scientific theories like evolution or more controversial work such as stem cell research, but just as religious views vary, so do their opinions in science. As for politics, it is not so simple. Due to the polarization of political ideologies, people seem to have qualms with certain aspects of science that are solely based on alignment with their political parties and not with them actually disagreeing with the scientific work [7]. Also, there seems to be a connection between religious and political views, because of how the two communities overlap, but this just further exemplifies how complex this situation is. Specifically, for certain communities, there has been a history of abuse from the science community. For example there is the entire study of eugenics, Tuskegee syphilis experiment, and the many other heinous experiments that have taken place globally for some pseudoscientific goal, as well as present day racial disparities in the healthcare system [1]. There is a lot of background fueling the mistrust. Just a couple of those situations would, rightfully, instill a sense of fear, mistrust, and lack of respect for anything related to science [6]. But hopefully these situations become mitigated over time and also that people continue to be educated about the unfortunate pitfalls that can come with scientific exploration when coupled with unquestioned and static societal disparities at the forefront. How can people regain trust in the science community?


The push back against these anti science views seems to be based in fear as well. People are afraid that this rise in looking to pseudoscience for answers could potentially cause social instability [4]. The risk lies in the growth of dissent, creating ideology based rifts that can begin to challenge how societies are managed. Although the challenging of societal structures is not always negative, in certain instances it can be constructive or very destructive. There seems to be much truth to that, because just in the United States alone, there is currently such a split over social issues, ranging from differences in political ideologies, civil rights, climate change, the validity of many vaccines, and even wearing a mask when you are in public during the pandemic, and this has caused a lot of public unrest. There is, unquestionably, a growth in public dissent throughout various populations, for a diverse set of reasons, and a large portion of it is tied to the rise in the social acceptance of pseudoscience based in the rejection of current accepted perspectives within the field of science. Many have called for the deconstruction of anti science views, but how can we do that [5]?


It is important to acknowledge that there is plausible panic from both camps, but how can this ideological divide be bridged? One way to address the issue of science hesitancy is to create more communication between the science community and the general public. This will create more transparency between groups, and allow the mysticism of science to become unveiled [2]. It will also allow the public to ask more direct questions, so they do not have to feel like they are in the dark. Another way to promote interaction would be to facilitate more direct conversations from members of the scientific community to the general public that does not come from biased publications or news sources. These conversations can be made through many different platforms. That may look like disseminating information through television press conferences, virtual meetings, as well as local community gatherings, and even social media. Having a plethora of outreach tactics should be the ultimate goal. It is important to realize the many ways that the public audience can consume information and to broadcast to each of those avenues. There has been a steady increase in social media outreach over recent years, and even more so lately due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to address the need for information to be diffused widely and quickly. Hopefully this can continue as it has the ability to reach a large audience, due to the growth in individuals consuming a great amount of the news and other bits of information through their phones and tablets with apps or general social media [3]. There should also be more accessibility for the general public to interact with scientific data and not have to rely on second hand sources. As well as making the information that is available easy to digest and understand [2]. Lastly, it is paramount to acknowledge the concerns and fears around certain areas in science that are present within various populations and the motivators for them [2]. This will help to establish the specific conversations that need to be had and the forms of outreach that would be the most beneficial. There are definitely more suggestions that would be helpful as well, but these are just a few. If this is implemented, ideally, it will create a stronger sense of community for everyone and a space for open communication.


Considering issues in the past, it is alright to have questions or be “afraid” of science, but it does not mean you have to denounce it fully. But, it is completely up to each individual to use their own discernment when making decisions about their own health, worldview, and overall well-being. But, it is also useful to utilize a principle, such as Occam's Razor, in situations like this. It simply explains that in situations where there is doubt, it is important to examine all of the data available and eliminate them one by one until you are left with the most simple explanation. What you are left with is likely the truth or the most plausible option. The field of science can be flawed but the ultimate goal is for us to learn more about our world in a way that can benefit us all.



References:

[1] Bajaj, S. S., & Stanford, F. C. (2021). Beyond tuskegee—Vaccine distrust and everyday racism. New England Journal of Medicine, 384(5), e12. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMpv2035827

[2] Bunch, L. (2021). A Tale of Two Crises: Addressing Covid-19 Vaccine Hesitancy as Promoting Racial Justice. HEC Forum, 33(1), 143–154. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10730-021-09440-0

[3] Bergström, A., & Jervelycke Belfrage, M. (2018). News in Social Media: Incidental consumption and the role of opinion leaders. Digital Journalism, 6(5), 583–598. https://doi.org/10.1080/21670811.2018.1423625

[4] Holton, Gerald James. 1993. Science and anti-science. Cambridge,

MA: Harvard University Press

[5] Hotez, P. J. (2021). Anti-science kills: From Soviet embrace of pseudoscience to accelerated attacks on US biomedicine. PLOS Biology, 19(1), e3001068. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001068

[6] Morrison, J. S. (2020). Antiscience in the covid-19 era. Health Affairs, 39(11), 2036–2037. https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2020.01850

[7] Selepak, A. G. (2018). Exploring anti-science attitudes among political and Christian conservatives through an examination of American universities on Twitter. Cogent Social Sciences, 4(1), 1462134. https://doi.org/10.1080/23311886.2018.1462134



44 views