ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, The

Sage Publications, Inc.
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Latest documents

  • Reducing Health Misinformation in Science: A Call to Arms

    The public often turns to science for accurate health information, which, in an ideal world, would be error free. However, limitations of scientific institutions and scientific processes can sometimes amplify misinformation and disinformation. The current review examines four mechanisms through which this occurs: (1) predatory journals that accept publications for monetary gain but do not engage in rigorous peer review; (2) pseudoscientists who provide scientific-sounding information but whose advice is inaccurate, unfalsifiable, or inconsistent with the scientific method; (3) occasions when legitimate scientists spread misinformation or disinformation; and (4) miscommunication of science by the media and other communicators. We characterize this article as a “call to arms,” given the urgent need for the scientific information ecosystem to improve. Improvements are necessary to maintain the public’s trust in science, foster robust discourse, and encourage a well-educated citizenry.

  • When Science Becomes Embroiled in Conflict: Recognizing the Public’s Need for Debate while Combating Conspiracies and Misinformation

    We explore the common attributes of political conflicts in which scientific findings have a central role, using the COVID-19 pandemic as a case study, but also drawing on long-standing conflicts over climate change and vaccinations. We analyze situations in which the systematic spread of disinformation or conspiracy theories undermines public trust in the work of scientists and prevents policy from being informed by the best available evidence. We also examine instances in which public opposition to scientifically grounded policy arises from legitimate value judgments and lived experience. We argue for the public benefit of quick identification of politically motivated science denial, and inoculation of the public against its ill effects.

  • Inequality and Misperceptions of Group Concerns Threaten the Integrity and Societal Impact of Science

    Racial and ethnic minority and lower-income groups are disproportionately affected by environmental hazards and suffer worse health outcomes than other groups in the United States. Relative to whites and higher-income groups, racial-ethnic minority and lower-income Americans also frequently express greater concern about high-profile global environmental threats like climate change, but they are widely misperceived as being less concerned about these issues than white and higher-income Americans. We use new survey research to explore public perceptions of COVID-19—another global threat marked by substantial racial, ethnic, and class disparities—finding a distinct pattern of misperceptions regarding groups’ concerns. We then discuss how these misperceptions represent a unique form of social misinformation that may pose a threat to science and undermine the cooperation and trust needed to address collective problems.

  • Nudging Social Media toward Accuracy

    A meaningful portion of online misinformation sharing is likely attributable to Internet users failing to consider accuracy when deciding what to share. As a result, simply redirecting attention to the concept of accuracy can increase sharing discernment. Here we discuss the importance of accuracy and describe a limited-attention utility model that is based on a theory about inattention to accuracy on social media. We review research that shows how a simple nudge or prompt that shifts attention to accuracy increases the quality of news that people share (typically by decreasing the sharing of false content), and then discuss outstanding questions relating to accuracy nudges, including the need for more work relating to persistence and habituation as well as the dearth of cross-cultural research on these topics. We also make several recommendations for policy-makers and social media companies for how to implement accuracy nudges.

  • Changing Americans’ Attitudes about Immigration: Using Moral Framing to Bolster Factual Arguments

    Our tendency to interpret facts in ways that are consistent with our prior beliefs impedes evidence-based attempts to persuade partisans to change their views on pressing societal issues such as immigration. Accordingly, most prior work finds that favorable information about the impact of immigration has little or no influence on policy preferences. Here, we propose that appealing to individuals’ moral values can bolster the persuasive power of informational interventions. Across three experiments (total N = 4,616), we find that an argument based on the value of in-group loyalty, which emphasized that immigrants are critical to America’s economic strength, combined with information about the economic impact of legal immigration, significantly increased Americans’ support for legal immigration. We also find a significant effect of the moral component of this message alone, even without factual information. These results show that moral arguments can strengthen the persuasiveness of informational appeals.

  • Measuring What Matters: Data Absenteeism, Science Communication, and the Perpetuation of Inequities

    The ways in which we collect health and social data, particularly data on vulnerable and underprivileged populations, is enormously influential over the quality and content of science and health communication. Data absenteeism—the absence or limits of data on groups experiencing social vulnerability—is endemic; and as a result, inferences drawn from studies with absentee data are questionable. Reasons for data absenteeism include tendencies toward conventional recruitment of the subjects in research, the ways in which communities are engaged or not engaged in the research process, and a lack of understanding and appreciation of the lived reality of the socially vulnerable. The “hardly reached” are often labelled “hard to reach,” keeping this critical population out of view. One approach to mitigate data absenteeism is to engage key stakeholders of the community and its residents in the entire research process from design to dissemination, which influences how research questions are asked and answered and how research gets used. We argue for a more inclusive science of science communication to promote diversity and equity.

  • A Partisan Pandemic: How COVID-19 Was Primed for Polarization

    Americans who affiliate with both major political parties rapidly formed diverging attitudes about the COVID-19 pandemic. Matters of scientific concern have elicited partisan reactions in the past, but partisan divergence of opinion on those issues occurred over decades rather than months. We review evidence on factors that led to polarization of previous scientific issues in an effort to explain why reactions diverged so quickly this time around. We then use publicly available survey data to reveal that partisan reactions to the pandemic were closely associated with trust in public health institutions, that the association between partisanship and trust increased over time, and that the conflation of trust and partisanship appears to largely explain polarized reactions to COVID-19. We also investigate the hypothesis that conservative media use might explain polarization but find that the hypothesis is not supported by our data.

  • Defining and Measuring Scientific Misinformation

    We define scientific misinformation as publicly available information that is misleading or deceptive relative to the best available scientific evidence and that runs contrary to statements by actors or institutions who adhere to scientific principles. Scientific misinformation violates the supposition that claims should be based on scientific evidence and relevant expertise. As such, misinformation is observable and measurable, but research on scientific misinformation to date has often missed opportunities to clearly articulate units of analysis, to consult with experts, and to look beyond convenient sources of misinformation such as social media content. We outline the ways in which scientific misinformation can be thought of as a disorder of public science, identify its specific types and the ways in which it can be measured, and argue that researchers and public actors should do more to connect measurements of misinformation with measurements of effect.

  • Moral Convictions and Threats to Science

    When science is marshaled to support one side or another in policy debates, people can react to that information differently depending on whether it supports their own position. They tend to find fault in unfavorable information and accept favorable information less critically. This may especially be the case when individuals’ positions are held with moral conviction—that is, when their position is not only their preferred position, but when it is the position that they feel to be morally correct. I examine three areas in which allowing moral convictions to influence reactions to scientific information may actually threaten the social benefits of science: promoting science misperceptions, eroding the credibility of scientists as sources of information, and eroding evaluations of science as a process. I argue that dealing with the influence of moral conviction over scientific interpretation will require acknowledgement that the social benefits of science are not self-evident and that they depend on public buy-in.

  • Is Citizen Science a Remedy for Inequality?

    Is public engagement with science an effective response to threats against science? One form of public engagement—citizen science—might be especially useful for addressing issues of inequality that threaten public support for science. Citizen science is both public participation in the scientific process and public participation in the governance of science. In principle, citizen science empowers marginalized communities to participate in the scientific process, using the authority of science to challenge government, industry, or other institutions that exploit imbalances of social power. In practice, however, citizen science can also be used to redirect attention away from actions that address inequalities and to reinforce modes of knowledge production that exclude alternative ways of knowing relevant to those without social power. Thus, rhetoric about citizen science as a solution to threats against science needs to be tempered with attention to specific contexts and opportunities.

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