Science is one of the first victims of disinformation, especially in the age of Covid. The OpenMind magazine is fighting against the spread of so-called fake news by teaching its readers how to determine if scientific news is true or not.
The internet, and especially social networks, are changing the way people learn about scientific news. False theories and ideas are spreading massively and influencing public opinion, as illustrated by the distrust that has taken hold throughout the world towards Covid-19 vaccines. This is a phenomenon that the editorial staff of OpenMind are on a mission to combat. This digital magazine, launched in mid-March, covers disinformation, controversy, cognitive manipulation and conspiracy theory in science.
"We are motivated by the enormous global challenges, from the Covid pandemic to the climate crisis, that force us to confront the ways that public understanding of science can be twisted in damaging ways," reads the magazine's website . "Everyone is vulnerable to manipulation, especially when bombarded with information overload and forced to adapt to fast-developing technologies."
Pamela Weintraub and Corey S. Powell, the two co-editors-in-chief of OpenMind, were inspired to launch the magazine after meeting with Brian Cohen, the president of the Science Literacy Foundation. This non-profit organization strives to promote science literacy to the general public. So does OpenMind. The magazine has already published a dozen articles at the crossroads between culture and political science. Among them are an editorial on homeopathy, an analytical paper on the emergence of the laboratory escape theory, and an essay on the (mis)representation of psychopaths on television. The purpose of these articles? "To offer clarifying perspectives and fresh insights on the most important issues in science and technology" and "[to] confront misinformation, conspiracy theories, and problematic ways of communicating scientific ideas," the OpenMind editors state.
Beware of pseudo-science
According to NiemanLab, the magazine received $200,000 in funding from the Science Literacy Foundation to get started. It is now seeking to raise half a million dollars through a donation appeal to continue its mission of providing information and coverage of current issues such as disinformation, mistrust of vaccinations and the climate emergency .
The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that many scientific misconceptions are circulating, posing a major challenge to democratic societies. And, contrary to popular belief, these are not solely the preserve of "science skeptics." Researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign stated, in a study published in September in the Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology, that people who believe in science are more likely to be fooled by pseudoscientific theories.
After subjecting nearly 2,000 participants to four experiments, they determined that those who said they trusted science the most were especially likely to believe disinformation if it was supported by false scientific references. "We conclude that trust in science, although desirable in many ways, makes people vulnerable to pseudoscience," the researchers write in the study. All of which proves that it is urgent for media like OpenMind to help teach the wider public how to effectively detect scientific fake news.