eHealth, Health Communication, Social Determinants

To Address the Spread of Misinformation, Get Specific

With greater access to information, it’s become increasingly hard to tell fact from fiction. (Source: Paintings (Triptych) by Wang Jianwei 汪建偉)

In the current polarized political climate, it is increasingly necessary to carefully frame the results of health and basic science research. Health researchers need to be aware of the potential misuse and misinterpretation of their research.

Concerningly, white supremacists have brought this problem to a national stage. A recent NY Times article describes the misappropriation of genetic research, used by the far right to lay claims to a biological basis for socially-determined traits like race and intelligence.

Misinformation has been addressed before on Upstream Downstream, but the problem is increasingly relevant. Researchers can pre-empt some of the abuse and distortion of their findings by engaging and expanding on the ethical and social implications of their work.

For example, one or two sentences in the discussion section of a manuscript could rebuff parties that have their own agenda. Situating findings within their broader social contexts, such as the specific upstream causes of health disparities, may mitigate the spread of fake news.

The framing around racial health disparities, for example, could be improved by actually naming racism as the root cause of poor health— instead of ending the conversation by identifying the marginalized groups who suffer from worse outcomes.

Taking the extra step to be explicit in communicating findings around health and science can go a long way.


-Steven Houang