How do I help fight the “infodemic?”

Uncertainty and Misinformation

A: Kindness + curiosity + scientific skepticism.

Our second installment of Throwback Thursday is a re-share of “Lindsey’s Laws” for determining whether a piece of news is SOLID or SENSATIONAL. As the pandemic rages on, so does the ensuing whiplash from navigating splashy headlines and attention-grabbing claims. Some good news: We can all play a part in turning down the volume on the crazy.

We’re also excited to share that a brand-new scientific field of “infodemiology” is emerging, with the goal of characterizing and effectively curating the firehose of accurate and inaccurate information that circulates during an epidemic. Our community here at Dear Pandemic has been recognized as a pioneer in “infodemiologic management” by the evidence-based digital news platform Axios! THANK YOU ALL for being part of the fight! WE LOVE OUR COMMUNITY.

So how, exactly, can we as a community help others practice kind and curious scientific skepticism? Here’s where Lindsey’s Laws come into play, demonstrating how scientists vet new claims.

(1) Demand extraordinary vetting for extraordinary claims;
(2) Proactively seek out competing views;
(3) Amplify good information, and cut off the oxygen to the toxic stuff.

First: In the words of the late, great astronomer Carl Sagan “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” If a finding is way out of the mainstream and/or sounds too good or bad to be true it’s important to make sure that the corroborating evidence is air tight and replicated. Indeed, REPLICATION IS THE HEART OF GOOD SCIENCE and we scientists demand lots of it before a finding becomes widely accepted.

Second: Another key tenet of science is ACTIVELY SEEKING OUT ALTERNATE HYPOTHESES. We obsessively seek out evidence that can refute or “falsify” our research. And we demand this of other scientists! Abraham Lincoln was another advocate for this approach, famously assembling a “team of rivals” to ensure he was hearing competing viewpoints.

Third: The best defense against misinformation is often a good offense – specifically, it’s typically more helpful to FOCUS ON AMPLIFYING THE GOOD info rather than tearing down the bad. Pushing out the good stuff improves the information ecosystem, while overly focusing on the bad (even in the spirit of rebuttal!) can inadvertently have a “backfire effect,” keeping it in the news cycle. Dartmouth scholar Brendan Nyhan has done some terrific related work, and we lean on his inspiration as we seek to amplify the good!

Please know that we Nerdy Girls are so very grateful for the trust and kindness that the Dear Pandemic community demonstrates towards us and each other. Together we will safely and sanely surf the dual “-demics” threatening our physical and emotional well-being, prioritizing both civility and rigorous scientific thinking. In conclusion: Stay kind and curious…..and skeptical. #infodemic #infodemiology

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