The 13th Annual Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) Conference was held in November 2021. While there were many topics covered and discussed at this year’s virtual event, two key themes for discussion were evidence transparency and combatting misinformation. These seemed especially relevant this year as the world deals with a pandemic and science based decisions are constantly questioned.
With regards to the pandemic, a lack of transparency has been blamed for decreased trust in health policy recommendations. Science Up First organized a panel to discuss this concern and its connection to misinformation. The University of Alberta study found 85% of misinformation originated from social media. Misinformation has risen sharply since the beginning of the pandemic along with associated conspiracy theories. The panelists described action items for combatting misinformation including debunking myths, understanding reasons for vaccine hesitancy, and transparent decision-making. Watch the full panel discussion here.
Genome BC held a similar panel discussion during our 2021 Genomics Forum. The panel was moderated by Dr. Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy. Panelists discussed how to counter an “Infodemic:” an overwhelming amount of information — comprised of factual, false, and misleading data. Dr. Samantha Yammine, (aka Science Sam) emphasized amplifying accurate information from trusted sources — rather than creating even more content — to help counter the misinformation. Watch the full panel discussion here.
Misinformation is also a key issue for climate change initiatives. Research has shown how a small amount of misinformation can drastically impact a person’s acceptance of climate action. Further, misinformation can decrease trust in government and institutions. A panel organized by Innovation Sciences and Economic Development Canada & Environment and Climate Change Canada emphasized how education alone is not enough to change a person’s behavior concerning climate action. John Cook, a Research Fellow in Communication and Media Studies at Monash University, discussed the importance of critical thinking. He differentiates between a person’s “fast thinking” (an instinctive reaction to information allowing the uptake of misinformation) to “slow” or critical thinking. He developed ‘The Cranky Uncle game’ to help people build critical thinking and therefore resilience against misinformation. Watch the full panel discussion here.
Here are some more thoughts from Dr. Cook on Combining Games and Critical Thinking to Fight Misinformation
The COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing climate change action are two global crises which require factual scientific data for evidence-based policy work. Governments must use appropriate information and be transparent in subsequent decision-making. In a panel organized by Evidence for Democracy, Frédérik Bouchard, a philosopher of science and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the Université de Montreal, explained the need for the public to understand what information and advice is used to make government decisions. His research shows public acceptance is higher when scientists give advice—but it is the government who makes the decisions. He also emphasized the power of language used by government officials. Phrases such as “I trust science” are problematic by making trust in science appear to be a choice. Scientists and government officials must work together on communication of data and transparency of decision making. Watch the full panel discussion here.
Here is another interesting read and podcast interview with Dr. Bouchard on How ‘Alexa’ is threatening society’s trust in scientific expertise
Genome BC funds research producing science-informed evidence concerning genomics in many areas including public health and climate action. Research we fund often produces genomic solutions which can improve the health of the planet and its inhabitants. The key themes of evidence transparency and combatting misinformation are vital regarding the acceptance of genomics technologies and innovation. We strive to fund research which contributes to evidence-based policies to allow the potential of genomics to benefit all life on this planet.