Health and Science Mis/Disinformation Thematic Issue, with a Covid-19 Flavour

The top-tier open-access journal, Media and Communication, has released a timely bumper thematic issue on heath and science controversies in the digital world, edited by Associate Professor An Nguyen of BU and Dr Daniel Catalan of University Carlos III of Madrid.

In addition to nine full research articles covering a range of health and science controversies (e.g. anti-vaccine movements, climate change denial, Flat Earth doctrine, anti-5G vandalism, nanotechnology, green energy), the issue features ten rapid-response commentaries on the Covid-19 infodemic from Africa, China, Japan, Vietnam, Italy, Spain, Germany and the US.

“Digital media, especially online social networks, open a vast array of avenues for lay people to engage with news, information and debates about important science and health issues,” said Dr Nguyen.

“But, as the Covid-19 infodemic shows, they have also become a fertile land for various stakeholders to spread misinformation and disinformation, stimulate uncivil discussions and engender ill-informed, dangerous public health and science decisions.” 

However, according to Dr Nguyen, societies need to take a step back so that we don’t pour all the blames on digital platforms without recognising that they are only an acute catalyst for many deeply rooted social, cultural and political problems to surface. Scientific facts and perspectives are far from enough in the fight against mis/disinformation about health and science. Competing narratives from culture, religion, politics and so on are integral parts of the whole phenomenon.

“Taken together, this special issue sheds some important new light on both the bright and dark sides of digital communication of health and science controversies and offers useful ideas for media scholars, journalists, science communicators, scientists, health professionals and policy-makers as they attempt to mitigate its negatives and foster its positives,” Dr Nguyen added.

“We also hope that it will invite many questions for future research into an increasingly crucial area that not only safeguards science and improves humanities but also can ultimately save lives.”

The special issue also includes Covid-19 commentaries by two other BU academics, Dr Jamie Matthews and Dr Xin Zhao.