Some saw the COVID-19 crisis primarily as a crisis of misinformation, following a longer trend of “truth decay” (1): that is, an array of confusing and conflicting messages that question facts, blur the line between fact and opinion, and dismiss formerly respected sources of information as merely political interests pushing a partisan agenda. The World Health Organization went so far as to warn against an “infodemic … an overabundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it” (2).
But, of course, the informational environment surrounding COVID-19 continues to be highly complex. Since the beginning of the pandemic, science has moved at breakneck speed and under immense public scrutiny. Influential journals published studies only to retract them a short time later. And the scientific community was faced with the dilemma of having to correct misinformation they knew to be false with science that was emerging and would continue to produce new and sometimes contradictory findings in the months to come (3). Misinformation about sciencein the public sphereMisinformation about science in the public sphere. Dietram A. Scheufele, Andrew J. Hoffman, Liz Neeley, Czerne M. Reid Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Apr 2021, 118 (15) e2104068118; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2104068118
We sympathize. But get off your high horse. Further down, we read this: “What does it mean for citizens to be scientifically literate in a world where authoritative and well-vetted scientific information sources compete with an onslaught of disinformation and misinformation in fragmented and often partisan information environments?”
Well, re COVID-19, a good deal of that disinformation and misinformation was purveyed by authorities, scientific and political. Books have been written about that. See, for example, The Price of Panic: How the Tyranny of Experts Turned a Pandemic into a Catastrophe (October 2020)
Accept the fact that, these days, “trust the science” is, for many, an act of faith contrary to evidence.
It’s going to take a long time to come back from this and authoritarian posturing won’t help. It would just prove the cynics right.
Also: World Health Organization? Oh, spare us. See Was the investigation of COVID-19’s origin thwarted by China? The World Health Organization team was not really allowed to conduct a proper investigation in China. The Big Science dance around the problem has been, at best, painful to watch.