The information landscape has undergone dramatic changes with the expansion of the internet and digital social media platforms. Information can be spread more rapidly and can reach more people than ever before. While this offers excellent possibilities to teach and educate and to disseminate information about research results and scientific evidence, it also comes with a downside: False information can be propagated with equal ease and speed.
This discussion paper describes and discusses the problems and the consequences of science
disinformation in three areas of concern, namely climate change, vaccines and pandemics, and what we can do to increase awareness and minimize harm caused by the spread of disinformation. It does so by highlighting the societal value of the scientific method, research integrity, open science communication and the resulting trust in science. The underlying question is how to protect the pillars of science from the severe consequences of disinformation while maintaining openness and democratic principles.
This paper presents the central characteristics of science disinformation, its roots, its spread, and potential solutions. The mere existence of disinformation is hard to prevent in open societies with strong protection of individual rights and freedom of expression. The paper identifies underlying cognitive, social and economic mechanisms that amplify the spread of disinformation and evaluates potential solutions.
Extensive research over the past several years has identified cognitive features of the human mind, as well as fast and efficient transmission channels, that contribute to the prevalence of science disinformation in our societies. Potential solutions cover a range of psychological, technical and political measures including inoculation, debunking, recommender systems, fact-checking, raising awareness, media literacy, and innovations in science communication and public engagement. Together, they contribute to tackling problems such as knowledge resistance, pseudoscience, undermining of trust, confirmation bias, filter bubbles, echo chambers, and other problems related to science disinformation.
After discussing concrete challenges for implementation in the three areas of concern
- climate change, vaccines, and pandemics - the paper offers recommendations on how to
encourage those with a factual knowledge base, i.e. scientists, to respond to misinformation, how to encourage science communicators and journalists to carefully check facts and sources, and finally how to raise awareness among policymakers about the importance of checking claims and the senders' underlying motives and intentions.
In a nutshell, the scientific committee and ALLEA call for
» initiatives to raise science literacy and digital media literacy
» more dialogue in science communication practices
» a stronger focus on communicating how science works
» serious engagement with the public when exercising or communicating research
» valuing the virtue of intellectual humility when communicating scientific evidence
» the maintenance of good research practices and high ethical standards to ensure integrity and trustworthiness
» accountable, honest, transparent, tailored and effective science advice mechanisms
The paper concludes with the suggestion to create a European Centre/Network for Science
Communication which could develop central guidelines and recommendations in a European
Code of Conduct for Science Communication, as well as coordinate initiatives to raise science and media literacy, and ultimately tackle science disinformation.