In May 2023, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) held a hybrid summit focused on “misinformation and disinformation in the context of the broader information ecosystem.” Recently, they published a 127-page report on the event.

The report offers some important context and considerations for communicating about health- and science-related topics in today’s environment. A few highlights:

  • In “Fissures and Fractures: Tracing the Fault Lines of Misinformation,” the speakers made important points about how people receive information. For example, we need to consider that information is received based on a person’s “political lines, commitments and values,” which are shaped by long histories of lived experiences. The same can be said for individual trust in science, which may hinge on feelings that science is unpredictable or has a hidden agenda. For individuals who feel this way, phrases like “science says” or “a preponderance of evidence suggests” will establish a mindset that is closed. However, examples of how science has solved problems and values-based framing that relies on shared points of view can increase trust and decrease susceptibility to misinformation.
  • In “Making Sense of Misinformation,” the pattern-seeking nature of the human brain was discussed as well as the role of biases, including the tendency to believe what fits with one’s pre-existing beliefs and to dismiss what does not. This section also offered research findings related to false memory formation, the reward structure on social media platforms that encourages spreading falsehoods, and the importance in distinguishing between science and policy: “Science can explain how to reach goals, but not what the goals or values should be, which should ideally be decided democratically” (p. 32). The notion that today’s students should not just be introduced to STEM as a potential career path but also as “a tool for public good and effective citizenship” (p. 36) and the role of trusted messengers in delivering information were also described in this section.
  • An interesting discussion about conspiracy thinking and the need for belonging was described by Peter McIndoe, a comedic protester who holds protests promoting the notion that “birds aren’t real” (p. 41).
  • The second part of the report focused on day two of the event, “Extending the Conversation.” The morning included some panel discussions that focused on science communication, truth and trust, and the afternoon included several breakout groups, each of which was summarized in this portion of the report.
  • Day three of the summit focused on solutions in a series of nine sessions related to topics like disinformation, legislation, education, science, and media literacy.

Check out the report today.

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