Resist pseudoscience with respect, not ridicule

Battle cries to take up “cudgels” against pseudoscience sparked by COVID-19 (T. Caulfield Nature http://doi.org/ggtbvj; 2020) could backfire. Although Caulfield makes important points about the need to counteract misinformation, war metaphors and hostility are more likely, in our experience, to antagonize perpetrators of misinformation — and so exacerbate the problem. We should instead be pre-emptively disseminating factual evidence so that people become more resistant to false information.

As members of Critica, a non-profit organization that corrects scientific and medical misinformation (www.criticascience.org), we contend that the problem does not stem from just a lack of knowledge. Many view COVID-19 as a political rather than a scientific issue, for example. And pseudoscience perpetrators are wary of experts — marginalizing and ignoring them over vaccination, for instance. This must not happen if and when a vaccine against COVID-19 emerges.

More-effective communication by scientists is the key. Although we do not yet have the luxury of making recommendations based on settled science, enough evidence exists to guide our attempts at communication. Respectful online discussion is more likely than ridicule to engage the curious and convince the unconvinced.

Nature 582, 32 (2020)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-01626-9


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