In the midst of the COVID-19 “infodemic,” efforts to counter misinformation by narrowly focusing on “accuracy” and “the facts” are likely to backfire. Scientists, policy-makers, and journalists must equally attend to social values and scientific uncertainties.
This focus on misinformation and accuracy is understandable. Accurate scientific information is key for meaningful public debate and decision-making. And correctives to misinformation provide instant gratification during an otherwise unpredictable and potentially long-term crisis that so far has not provided scientists and policy-makers with a lot of success stories. Organizations such as the US Federal Emergency Management Agency and the World Health Organization can quickly implement myth-busting and rumor-control websites with the reasonable hope of staving off a more widespread problem down the road.
However, as the COVID-19 “infodemic,” as WHO calls it, escalates, those communicating scientific information are at risk not only of oversimplifying the misinformation problem itself but also of failing to recognize and address other factors that complicate efforts to communicate effectively about COVID-19. In particular, the seductively simple directive to be “accurate,” which lies at the heart of science communication, obscures the reality that accuracy is a tenuous notion during a crisis such as this, in which uncertainty reigns. Science that was considered correct at the outset will likely turn out to be incorrect or incomplete, making it difficult to draw a bright line between misinformation and science that is legitimately contested. Further, just as the public health questions that arise during a pandemic go far beyond numbers such as death rates to include matters of social inequity and ailing health care infrastructure, the communication issues that complicate an infodemic are much broader than the mere existence of falsehood. Read full article.
There is an urge for politicians, journalists, scientists, and communication practitioners who are part of the well-intentioned fight against COVID-19 misinformation to pay close attention to four major communication challenges.
- SCIENTIFIC FACTS AND UNCERTAINTIES ARE MOVING TARGETS
- THE COVID-19 INFORMATION ENVIRONMENT IS PARTISAN
- SCIENCE MUST GET POLITICAL WITHOUT GETTING PARTISAN
- THE ACCELERATED WICKEDNESS OF COVID-19
> How can decision-makers navigate challenges on misinformation to more effectively communicate about both COVID-19 and future crises?