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Pandemic ‘has revealed extent of misinformation problem’


Changes are needed in Australia’s research community and publishing systems to tackle misinformation, study says

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced a “crash course in science” on the general public and has highlighted misinformation problems that the research community must address, a study has said.

The study from the University of Sydney, published in BMJ Open Science on 2 December, says that multiple systemic issues cause science misinformation, including “the production of fraudulent or biased science research, ‘publish or perish’ research culture, inadequate training in research misconduct, problems in the academic publishing system and lack of public access to high-quality research”.

“To prevent or reduce misinformation, key changes are needed from within the research community, academic and media publishing systems and government funding processes,” said author Lisa Parker, an honorary lecturer in the pharmacy school at the University of Sydney.

“The spread of misinformation in public health and science is not a new problem, nor are the concerns raised in health research and communication,” Parker said. “However, the goal of this study was to explore views and experiences of science researchers and communicators about misinformation. It showed widespread concern about the ongoing problem of misinformation, which has been such a prominent feature in the current pandemic.”

The study found that misinformation could arise when the original information was of poor quality or biased, when researchers were unable to communicate their work or give access to it, and when audiences interpreted it incorrectly.

“We advocate for further research into ways to minimise the production and spread of misinformation about Covid-19 and other science crises in the future,” the paper concluded.

Trust in scientists

Another study, from the Wellcome Global Monitor survey on 29 November, found that Australians and New Zealanders had the world’s highest rate of trust in scientists.

The proportion of people who said they had “a lot” of trust in scientists was 62 per cent, more than in any other country surveyed. This was up from 47 per cent in 2018. The study also found very high rates of belief that medical professionals based their Covid-19 advice on scientific findings.

The survey questioned 119,000 people in 113 countries on their attitudes.