Defining and Measuring Scientific Misinformation

Date01 March 2022
DOI10.1177/00027162221084709
Published date01 March 2022
Subject MatterMisinformation
98 ANNALS, AAPSS, 700, March 2022
DOI: 10.1177/00027162221084709
Defining and
Measuring
Scientific
Misinformation
By
BRIAN G. SOUTHWELL,
J. SCOTT BABWAH
BRENNEN,
RYAN PAQUIN,
VANESSA BOUDEWYNS,
and
JING ZENG
1084709ANN The Annals Of The American AcademyDefining Misinformation
research-article2022
We define scientific misinformation as publicly availa-
ble 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 misinforma-
tion 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 analy-
sis, to consult with experts, and to look beyond con-
venient sources of misinformation such as social media
content. We outline the ways in which scientific misin-
formation 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.
Keywords: measurement; inaccurate claims; public
science; mass media; social media
Misinformation has attracted considerable
attention as a topic for academic inquiry,
especially in recent years (e.g., Wardle and
Derakhshan 2017; or Southwell, Thorson, and
Sheble 2018). Despite the scores of papers
Brian G. Southwell directs the Science in the Public
Sphere program at RTI International and is a faculty
member at Duke University and the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
J. Scott Babwah Brennen leads online expression policy
at the Center on Science and Technology Policy at the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Ryan Paquin is a senior research scientist in the Patient,
Provider, & Community Engagement program at RTI
International.
Vanessa Boudewyns is a senior research scientist in the
Science in the Public Sphere program at RTI
International.
Jing (Meg) Zeng is a senior research and teaching asso-
ciate at the University of Zurich.
Correspondence: bsouthwell@rti.org

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