The controversy surrounding the anti-vaccination movement on social media has some students expressing the importance of peer-reviewed journals.
An Ohio teen, using Reddit— an American news aggregation, web content rating, and discussion website—and scientific journals, went against the views of his mother and got himself vaccinated.
The teen testified against his mother before at a Senate hearing alongside experts, according to the Washington Post, which has caused an increase in the discussion of the topic.
Dzmitry Yuran, assistant professor in the school of arts and communication, believes that the popularization of peer-reviewed journals does more harm than good in the spread of misinformation in media.
“[Peer-reviewed journals] are crucial,” Yuran said. “But they’re not all powerful.”
Yuran said one such problematic journal was the anti-vaccination research.
He said the anti-vaccination movement was popularized with a scientific journal that has since been retracted because the co-authors revealed the data collection was unethical.
Yuran said peer-reviewed journals never give a 100 percent course of action; it’s the second level of interpretation that does that, which is usually in the realm of the media.
He said new research gets into places like a morning talk show or in the pages of the BBC.
The discussion usually surrounds understanding research that’s been done on a small animal, usually a mouse, but is interpreted as a course of action for human beings.
“Once it’s out of the journals, there is no control over it,” Yuran said. “It goes into the realm of misinterpretation, speculation and everything else.”
Yuran said this misinterpretation is caused by the simplification of information based on what people want to get out of them.
He said they’re often read by people who don’t necessarily “understand [the journals] fully, crawls down to [the] conclusion section and fishes for that one useful tidbit of information that they can turn into [a] course of action.”[sic]
Zachary Eckert, a graduate physics student, also shares the same beliefs as Yuran Eckert said science can easily be used to prove personal bias.
“With nearly any set of data you can get pretty much any outcome you want,” Eckert said, “depending on how you look at the data.”
Eckert said there are multiple ways of looking at numbers. He said it’s imperative to try and find the most true results from any set of numbers.
“The simple solution to every ailment in life is what we’re after,” Yuran said. “We want a simple shortcut and hope that science will give it to us.”
Yuran said that there’s no one solution to the spread of misinterpreted research, but education plays a big role.
Many scientific journals are published by people who have a very specific educational background and are difficult to read.
He also said they’re costly for the general consumer who may not understand the technical writing.
These factors lead to an over reliance on someone to interpret the information for the general public.
However, Eckert believes social media platforms play a big role in the spread of misinformation.
He said that most things that are shared are those which have polarizing opinions in the titles and is typically not based on either the content of the article or whether the article has evidence for it.
Most people decide whether they agree or disagree with shared articles from the title and share it without properly reading.
“If it supports your worldview, you’re going to share it with everybody else,” Eckert said. “And then your social media circle becomes an echo chamber of everybody who agrees with you.”
Eckert said memes– humorous images, videos or pieces of text that are copied and spread rapidly by internet users–may be helpful in dispelling misinformation.
He believes the simplicity and relatable nature of memes can easily be shared than an article explaining complicated science.
“They’re more likely to be able to permeate certain circles,” Eckert said. “And it can get some of the more centrist people to rethink their ideas.”
Yuran believes that society has a very long way to go in it’s relationship with science, but personal research and cognitive understanding on an individual level is a huge step in the right direction.