Addressing the Dangers of Misrepresenting Scientific Evidence Online

Prithvi Iyer is Program Manager at Tech Policy Press. Shutterstock What does it mean to live in a world where we cannot agree on what is legitimate “scientific evidence”? Research has shown that social media can help amplify and lend a kind of credibility to conspiracy theories cloaked in scientific jargon, furthering disagreements on core issues like climate change and pandemic response that urgently require a common consensus and unified call to action.  For example, conspiracy theories linking Bill Gates to the Monkeypox outbreak in the United States or blaming jihadist forces for spreading COVID-19 in India have been amplified on both traditional and fringe social media platforms, fuelling a pervasive distrust in scientific evidence and public health institutions. These online activities have clear offline impacts, ranging from a distrust of vaccines to calls for violence against the alleged perpetrators of a public health crisis. Thus, it is crucial that scientific communications is resilient from malicious misrepresentation.  To better understand the complexity of scientific misinformation and its implications, researchers are studying how conspiracy theorists and science journalists alike transform and communicate scientific evidence in the age of social media. For Tech Policy Press, Adi Cohen looked at how scientific publishing is weaponized by COVID-19 vaccine and masking skeptics to spread disinformation. Now, a notable new study published in Science, led by Andrew Beers and colleagues at the University of Washington, explores the implications of “selective reporting” on social media, specifically concerning discourse around the efficacy of masks during the COVID-19…Addressing the Dangers of Misrepresenting Scientific Evidence Online