MIT researchers: open data and public scientific literacy problematic

Viral Visualizations: How Coronavirus Skeptics Use Orthodox Data Practices to Promote Unorthodox Science Online

Fascinating paper from five MIT researchers arguing that many who are questioning official political and scientific narratives are doing so with skill and integrity and that new methods of stopping such questioning must be used because dismissing them as illiterate doesn’t seem credible. And that hiding important facts such as uncertainty levels when communicating the official narrative backfires because this will be pointed out by people outside of the mainstream media and the academic establishment.

I don’t think it’s a sarcastic paper but I’m not entirely sure it isn’t. It’s full of amazing quotes like:

calls for increased literacy have often become a form of wrong-headed solutionism that posits education as the fix to all media-related problems. […] calling for increased media literacy can often backfire: the instruction to “question more” can lead to a weaponization of critical thinking and increased distrust of media and government institutions.

While academic science is traditionally a system for producing knowledge within a laboratory, validating it through peer review, and sharing results within subsidiary communities, anti-maskers reject this hierarchical social model. They espouse a vision of science that is radically egalitarian and individualist. This study forces us to see that coronavirus skeptics champion science as a personal practice that prizes rationality and autonomy; for them, it is not a body of knowledge certified by an institution of experts.

Moreover, this is a subculture shaped by mistrust of established authorities and orthodox scientific viewpoints. Its members value individual initiative and ingenuity, trusting scientific analysis only insofar as they can replicate it themselves by accessing and manipulating the data firsthand.

increasing access to raw data or improving the informational quality of data visualizations is not sufficient to bolster public consensus about scientific findings

These findings suggest that the ability for the scientific community and public health departments to better convey the urgency of the US coronavirus pandemic may not be strengthened by introducing more downloadable datasets

Francesca Tripodi [98] has shown how evangelical voters do not vote for Trump because they have been “fooled” by fake news, but because they privilege the personal study of primary sources and have found logical inconsistencies not in Trump’s words, but in mainstream media portrayals of the president. As such, Tripodi argues, media literacy is not a means of fighting “alternative facts.” Christopher Bail et al. [8] have also shown how being exposed to more opposing views can actually increase political polarization