Recommendations for combating scientific misinformation

The survey Scientific Disinformation in Spain, carried out by FECYT in the framework of the European project IBERIFIER, shows that most citizens are concerned about the effects of scientific disinformation and that they do not feel very confident when it comes to differentiating between false and true content. The report includes a series of recommendations for dealing with this type of misinformation, which are reproduced below.

19/12/2022 - 09:00 CET

Adobe Stock.

Promote media literacy among the entire population

Given their important role in the ability to discern the veracity of scientific issues and limit the spread of misinformation, there is a need to enhance competences that enable people to engage critically and effectively with information, with other forms of content, with different sources and their ability to verify information, and with different types of dissemination modalities.

Increasing knowledge of how science works

The public must be able to understand the provisional nature of science, so that a new discovery can discard previous knowledge. This, far from being a problem of mistrust in science, should reinforce that trust as an activity subject to constant judgement.

Promote knowledge about the social practices that the scientific community uses to produce reliable knowledge and the criteria for scientific expertise

Scientific knowledge is highly specialised and, due to the limits of our knowledge and time, we often rely on the expertise of others, so people may use their trust in experts or institutions as a shortcut. In this sense, it is necessary to promote a) knowledge about the social practices that the scientific community uses to produce reliable knowledge, such as the importance of consensus or peer review, and b) the ability to question the reliability of a source and its specialised scientific expertise in the area in question (Osborne, J. & Pimentel, D., 2022).  

In relation to the previous point, disinformation disseminated by scientists and health professionals in different media, especially in social networks, should be avoided (Ferrer, 2022). This happens when different science and health professionals broadcast news in which they have no expertise or capacity to discern its veracity. Reception occurs with an authority bias, as the public is often unable to assess their ability to do so. Sometimes this misinformation has no false basis, nor is it opinionated, but it is inadequately communicated and loses accuracy.   

Promoting skills for "healthy" scepticism

Trust in institutions, greater confidence in science and greater knowledge about how science works, and conspiratorial mindsets are associated with concerns about disinformation, which could help alert people to the risks of disinformation. In this sense, it is important to promote the skills to exercise 'healthy' scepticism - the ability to accept evidence - as opposed to the absolute suspicion of anything related to the official, evidence-immune narrative of conspiracy thinking.

Avoid politicisation of scientific facts

Ideology can play a role in discerning and disseminating scientific misinformation, which shows the importance of avoiding "politicising" scientific findings and differentiating these from political measures or decisions, in which other social, economic, ethical, etc. factors also play a role.

Encouraging responsible and quality scientific communication

Although social media play an important role in the dissemination of scientific misinformation, people tend to attribute less credibility to these channels. In this sense, it is essential to promote the quality of scientific communication by media and institutions, both to avoid misinformation and to build public trust in these organisations.

Promoting specialised science journalism

Professional and specialised science journalism should be promoted which, without losing its independence and critical capacity, allows scientific findings to be contextualised, conveys the provisional nature of science as a strength and avoids "false balance" in the media, presenting an issue as more balanced between two opposing views than what is supported by the evidence. This is not to say that the public cannot have a say in the effects that scientific findings, or their applications, may have, but it is important that they are distinguished from the facts. In this respect, initiatives that provide resources to the media to cover scientific news, such as the Science Media Centres or the European Science-Media Hub, are useful.

Promote specialised structures, means and resources dedicated to science communication

For their part, scientific institutions themselves play an important role, so it is necessary to promote specialised structures, media and resources dedicated to science communication that involve the public and can provide effective and responsible information, avoiding exaggeration of scientific findings, communicating uncertainty and promoting knowledge about how science works.

Incorporate measures to limit the spread of disinformation promoted by algorithms

It is important to work with search engine and social media algorithms to penalise misinformation. Existing algorithm biases (such as interaction bias) often increase the spread of hoaxes. In addition, competition for attention and the use of tactics favoured by these algorithms can encourage scientists and institutions to contribute to information noise and misinformation.

Press release
The 5Ws +1
Publish it