Misinformation and Disinformation: Threatening Public Trust in Science and the Planet

Misinformation and Disinformation: Threatening Public Trust in Science and the Planet

By auroraoddi

Misinformation and disinformation have emerged as significant challenges that pose a threat to public trust in science and the future of our planet, according to researchers. False information regarding vaccines and climate change proliferates on social media platforms, which have become primary sources of news and information for many Americans.

Additionally, a growing political divide is leading to a widening gap in trust towards scientific experts. A recent survey by Pew Research revealed that 24% of Republicans believe scientific experts make better policy decisions about scientific issues, compared to 55% of Democrats.

To address these complex issues, the Nobel Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences organized a three-day meeting in Washington, D.C., which explored the causes, effects, and the role of generative AI in exacerbating these trends.

The Role of Social Media and the Attention Economy

Speakers at the meeting highlighted the intersection between the attention economy’s business model and the human desire to belong, creating an information environment saturated with misinformation and disinformation.

Behavioral scientist Gizem Ceylan from Yale University pointed out that the fundamental problem lies in the reward structure of social media platforms. Sharing false information can garner attention and recognition in the form of likes and comments, driving habitual behavior more than individual motivations.

Ceylan’s study demonstrated that the top 15% of habitual news sharers were responsible for sharing 30% to 40% of the false news in the study. Previous research has also shown that people’s inclination to be a source of novel information, often false, contributes to the spread of misinformation and disinformation on platforms like Twitter.

Ceylan and her collaborators advocate for restructuring social media sites to encourage the habit of sharing accurate information.

Beyond Technological Solutions

The speakers emphasized that the information crisis we face today is not solely a technological problem. Fact-checking, innovation, and policing alone cannot eradicate racism or harmful information from digital spaces, as these issues are deeply rooted in social, economic, and political systems.

Rachel Kuo, a professor of media studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, asserted that information is intertwined with broader societal structures. Hahrie Han, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University, noted that changes in society have led to more social interactions than meaningful relationships, often transactional in nature.

This shift has led to the disintegration of civic infrastructure, fostering echo chambers where disinformation thrives. Han suggests leveraging the concept of “belonging comes before belief” from her research on megachurches to foster relationships across social spaces.

Misinformation in Science - Syrus Today

The Role of Scientific Publishing and Peer Review

While peer review has been held up as a means of vetting information within the scientific community, the scientific enterprise itself can inadvertently contribute to the spread of misinformation. Incentives for scientists to publish and journals to attract readers, coupled with the complexities of scientific jargon and publishing practices, can create challenges.

Acknowledging these issues, the first report of the International Panel on the Information Environment (IPIE) recommends labeling content to provide context through fact-checking and funding information, publishing corrections, and developing consensus on the moderation of content.

The report also highlights the importance of standardizing definitions of misleading information and analyzing non-English language sources to enhance understanding and combat misinformation.


The pervasive spread of misinformation and disinformation presents a significant threat to public trust in science and the well-being of our planet. Addressing this issue requires restructuring social media platforms, promoting accurate information-sharing habits, and strengthening social infrastructure.

Additionally, transparency in scientific publishing is essential. By taking collective action, we can combat misinformation and safeguard the integrity of scientific knowledge for the benefit of society and the future of our planet.

%d bloggers like this: