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During a pandemic it’s more important than ever to avoid falling for or spreading misinformation and disinformation. But with so much new and changing information, how do you know what to trust? PacSci has teamed up with the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public to help you navigate COVID-19 and the 24-hour news cycle.

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COVID-19

Facts in thetime of COVID-19

explore!

Truth decay

In the internet era, information spreads far, fast.If a few people believe something untrue or mix up some details, it isn’t always a big deal. But when we’re dealing with a public health crisis, it becomes more important than ever to get reliable information from expert sources.When false information about sensitive subjects spreads far and fast, you end up with what some people are calling an infodemic, where the spread of false information becomes a crisis unto itself.During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s on each of us to slow down, look to the relevant experts, and think before we share.

Misinformationanddisinformation

Misinformation is incorrect information shared by mistake.Disinformation is incorrect information shared deliberately.Disinformation can be tricky to identify, but careful reading and critical thinking can help you avoid falling for it.

We’re watching science inreal time!

With this pandemic, we’re watching the scientific process in real time. But it’s important to keep in mind that the 24-hour news cycle gives us access to sensational stories based on early research that will be revised later.These are some things to keep in mind that can help you make sense of all the information you encounter.

Science is meant to move slowly.

Change is a natural part of science.

Experts have different specialties.

Not all sources are trustworthy.

Science is meant to move slowly.

The scientific process involves lots of careful trial and error, as well as monitoring situations over long periods of time. It moves in stark contrast to the 24-hour news cycle.Breaking news is essential in times of crisis, such as during a war or a natural disaster. But a novel disease pandemic is a different kind of crisis. It evolves slowly – the experts are still figuring it out, and that process can’t be rushed. Patience and revision are both crucial parts of that process.

Change is a natural part of science.

When scientists’ ideas don’t hold up to careful testing andpeer review, or when conflicting new information emerges, they form new hypotheses and issue corrections. These revisions indicate thorough research, so change is agood thing.Most research surrounding the virus is still in the early stages, so we can expect to see a lot of changes, including when it comes to instructions for the public. For example, at first, experts didn’t think everyone needed masks. As they learned more about the virus, they determined masks were important, so the instruction changed.Follow current expert advice, even if it’s different from what they said previously. And if you’re curious, you can usually find great articles and studies that explain what changed!

Tip

Peer review is when other scientists, researchers, or academics in the same field review a study. It’s important to remember that a peer reviewed paper still might not be perfect – passing this stage just means it seems valid so far.

When you’re reading scientific news, try to pay attention to the kinds of words being used. Is there a lot of hypothetical language? Do they mention if a study has been published and peer reviewed? Are there quotes from scientists emphasizing that the theory is still new? Are there any quotes from subject matter experts who were not involved in the study?

Experts have differentspecialties.

Not everyone can be an expert in every field, and right now especially, different information needs to come from different experts. One person might have the best answers about how infectious diseases spread, while another will know more about how vaccines are made.Credible experts will happily refer you to someone else if something is not in their field of knowledge. If one person claims to have all the answers on everything from news reporting to vaccine development, that is a red flag.

Not all sources are trustworthy.

It’s important to get your news from responsible, trustworthy sources. Major newspapers or their websites are a great place to start, along with any respected experts in your local community.

Headlines can be misleading.

Not all stories are dramatic.

Credible sources provide evidence.

Headlines are supposed to catch your attention. Even the best publications can be guilty of usingheadlines that areover-the-topor flat-out misleadingtopull the reader in.It is important tocarefullyread the whole story, andneverjust the headline.

In a reputable publication or news site,you’llprobably see some headlinesthataren’t attention-grabbing. If every headline on a website sounds wild or scary, this might not be the best place to look for credible information.

Well-balanced newsstoriescite studies, include links to sources or other articles, and feature interviews with subject matter experts. If there are graphs and charts, there will be links to the raw data.A trustworthy news source will never expect you to believe everything just because they say it.Trustworthy sources also correct theirmistakes.Ifa source never issuescorrections, be wary.

Don’t fallfor it!

There are some simple things you can do to avoid falling for misinformation and disinformation as you consume news stories.

Notice your emotional reactions

Checkcredentials

Own yourmistakes

Bepatient

Own your mistakes

If you share misinformation, share the correct information once you find out. Even if you’re not a journalist or public figure, it’s important to take responsibility for what you share.

Notice your emotional reactions

When you read an article, before you share it or take action, pay attention to your body. Did your heart start beating faster? Did your muscles tense?If you are having a strong reaction, take a few deep breaths. Ask yourself why you are feeling so strongly about it, and whether those emotions might be impacting your judgment. If a story makes you mad or afraid, it can be easier to miss that the details don’t add up.

Checkcredentials

Look at specialties

Dig deeper

Make sure you listen to relevant experts, not just any expert.

Doctors have specialties, and their specialties are usually mentioned in credible articles. If a doctor is being quoted without that detail, it might be a red flag, but a quick online search should help clear things up.Being an expert in nutrition doesn’t qualify someone to talk about infectious disease, and even a world-class dentist won’t have expert knowledge in how vaccines are made.

Nobody expects you to be an expert in everything, either – including in how to spot an expert! But there are some things you can look for to help you understand if a source is trustworthy.While you should exercise some caution doing online research, since anyone can make a website, it can be helpful to get a general impression of someone’s work: Do you find their name linked to peer-reviewed studies, or is it mostly news articles where they present claims about lots of different subjects? Are there stories about them getting in trouble for this in the past?When you see them interviewed, do they claim to know most things with certainty, or do they explain when some details aren’t yet known? And is the information they’re providing different from what anyone else has claimed? If an idea is new and being presented with certainty, that’s a big sign that something isn’t right.

Be patient

New research results are published every day, and some involve exciting news about a new vaccine or treatment. We all want a vaccine, so it can be tempting to accept these stories right away. But one study is generally not enough, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If a story is brand new, or if there is still debate between experts, try to be patient until more information comes forth.

Tip

Cutting down your news consumption can help! Try reading the news once or twice each day instead of constantly. And wait for a story to hit major headlines instead of looking for a brand-new scoop on social media. Let the experts digest it first, then communicate it to the journalists, who are trained to report it to you in a clear, accurate way.

So how can you minimize your exposure to misinformation and disinformation?Above all, choose your resources carefully.

Your state and local health boards will have the most up-to-date information on the virus in your area. Follow their guidance, and err on the side of caution. As your state opens up, continue to take as many safety measures as you’re able and to stay home when possible.Center for an Informed Public is a great, ongoing resource to learn more about spotting misinformation and disinformation.

Read news from well-established publications that cite lots of sources and interview relevant experts. Even then, before you panic about a story you’ve read, try to find the same information reported on elsewhere. Read more than one version; you may be surprised by how a slight difference in wording can change the story!

Further investigation

Pacific Science Center would like to thank our advisers for this exhibition: Jevin WestCenter for an Informed Public Director University of Washington Information School Associate ProfessorCarl Bergstrom University of Washington Department of Biology Professor

This exhibit was created by Pacific Science Center.For more information or to explore other exhibits, please visit pacificsciencecenter.org