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Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Science and Ethics of “Curing” Misinformation

Freiling, I., Knause, N.M., & Scheufele, D.A.
AMA J Ethics. 2023;25(3):E228-237. 


A growing chorus of academicians, public health officials, and other science communicators have warned of what they see as an ill-informed public making poor personal or electoral decisions. Misinformation is often seen as an urgent new problem, so some members of these communities have pushed for quick but untested solutions without carefully diagnosing ethical pitfalls of rushed interventions. This article argues that attempts to “cure” public opinion that are inconsistent with best available social science evidence not only leave the scientific community vulnerable to long-term reputational damage but also raise significant ethical questions. It also suggests strategies for communicating science and health information equitably, effectively, and ethically to audiences affected by it without undermining affected audiences’ agency over what to do with it.

My summary:

The authors explore the challenges and ethical considerations surrounding efforts to combat misinformation. The authors argue that using the term "curing" to describe these efforts is problematic, as it suggests that misinformation is a disease that can be eradicated. They argue that this approach is overly simplistic and disregards the complex social and psychological factors that contribute to the spread of misinformation.

The authors identify several ethical concerns with current approaches to combating misinformation, including:
  • The potential for censorship and suppression of legitimate dissent.
  • The undermining of public trust in science and expertise.
  • The creation of echo chambers and further polarization of public opinion.
Instead of trying to "cure" misinformation, the authors propose a more nuanced and ethical approach that focuses on promoting critical thinking, media literacy, and civic engagement. They also emphasize the importance of addressing the underlying social and psychological factors that contribute to the spread of misinformation, such as social isolation, distrust of authority, and a desire for simple explanations.