July 21, 2024

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“How can we combat misinformation and pseudoscience?”

“How can we combat misinformation and pseudoscience?”

Andreas Huysmann lists three proposals that fit the like Pandemic preparedness, Prepare to be misled can be mentioned.

Just imagine that an unknown person comes on TV and advises you to undergo medical treatment. You are convinced that this can lead to cancer, dementia and infertility, so do not pursue it. A large portion of the population is planning to do this, and your friends, family, and acquaintances have already scheduled an appointment to undergo this harmful treatment.

Any sane person would shout from the rooftops not to undergo this medical procedure, eagerly share messages on social media that support their point of view, almost be ostracized from society, and seek out like-minded people.

We have, of course, become familiar with this scenario during the recent Corona pandemic. You also see this scenario on a smaller scale: In my short career (so far) as a doctor, I have been accused more than once by (the family of) patients that “we” are killing the patient or preventing HIV treatment, which of course was not the case.

There are new pandemics coming: The number of new disease outbreaks is already increasing Years And threats like Bird flu persist. It would be naive not to prepare for this, so we are already doing this: we are identifying new potential pathogens, assessing the risk of outbreaks, containing them if possible, and actively expanding our vaccine stockpiles. Let us make a similar effort to anticipate and combat misinformation and pseudoscience.

Here are three proposals that fit like Pandemic preparedness, Prepare to be misled can be mentioned.

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1. Identify misinformation and its consequences

We are increasingly working to identify pathogens that could cause future pandemics. In the same way, we need to map misinformation: who believes it, why, what the consequences are, and what we can do about it.

To give another example from medical practice: we know that people with cancer choose alternative treatment rather than conventional treatment Dies faster, but this is only a minority. Many cancer patients combine both (which is always harmless) and have incorrect ideas about their disease, but we do not know the consequences of such incorrect practices and ideas on longevity and quality of life, although they lead to unnecessary stress or can lead to To unnecessary stress. Leads to feelings of guilt.

For example: I have heard many times from patients that if the tumor “sees air,” as it does during an operation, it will start to grow faster. This is of course not true, but when, by chance, one of these patients’ illness worsened after surgery, she blamed herself for agreeing to the procedure.

2. Communicate humanly and emotionally

From experience, it is much easier to be completely against misinformation, speak from authority and leave it at that. However, it doesn’t work that way. Experience shows that empathy is of little importance in combating misinformation. For example, the average person who forwards a message containing misleading information rarely does so intentionally.

As a doctor, you would not accuse a concerned family of spreading misinformation and then remain silent. As a doctor, you are transparent about what you are doing at such a moment, explaining the situation and trying to restore trust. Maybe we should also use this approach when we talk to vaccine skeptics, online or offline.

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Vaccine skeptics seem to get their (mis)information from social media more than others research. While vaccine skeptics trust doctors and health professionals less than others, they still trust them more than any other source of information. Doctors, healthcare workers, and scientists have a huge opportunity: increase scientists’ social media presence, so you can provide reliable information to vaccine skeptics more efficiently.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Social media can be a particularly toxic environment and it only allows for one of these minority of the population feel comfortable opposing content they disagree with. Exciting algorithms don’t make things any better either. It doesn’t look like this Internet culture will change quickly, but we can dream that if more scientists come online, the toxicity can be sufficiently mitigated and positive voices will dominate.

The number of people who actively share or interact with the news Decreases Since the epidemic. In 2023, only 22% of the population actively engages with news, which does not necessarily consist of informed individuals. So here’s a call to the diverse group of doctors and scientists, whether in training or not, in our country: Make your voice heard, communicate science in public forums and help turn the tide. We will reap the benefits in the next epidemic.

Andreas Huismann started as a fact checker at Factcheck.Vlaanderen three years ago, while still a medical student. He has now graduated as a doctor and is pursuing a master’s degree in immunology at Oxford University.