ScienceSam’s infodemic survival guide

Samantha Yammine. Photo: CCFI

Dr. Samatha Yemmine, a neuroscientist, digital media producer and science communicator, also known as ScienceSam, recently spoke at the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity Canadian Centre for Food Integrity’s Public Trust Summit at Toronto. In her address, Yemmine dives into dealing with an “infodemic,” and how to discern between misinformation and information from credible sources.

The infodemic is defined by the avalanche of unreliable information and overall quantity of information available, Yemmine says. She notes the massive volume of information available to everyone during this age of social media is an asset, but only if approached responsibly.

The flood of information and ease of access impacts our ability to make clear and correct choices, and makes it difficult to decide what is true or credible.

Disinformers, Yammine explains, are those who intentionally distribute false information to profit in some way. An indication of misinformation is something triggering a strong emotional reaction. Yemmine says that disinformers use tactics that play into individual’s fear responses and rapid reactions to apply a sense of urgency and cloud over logical discernment. It is important to fact check the information that causes a knee-jerk reaction before sharing, she says.

If you’ve fallen prey to disinformation, don’t feel bad. A whopping ninety-six percent of people stated they saw misinformation about COVID, and thirty-six percent shared it with inadequate consideration of checking facts.

How can we stop the spread of disinformation? Yammine encourages individuals to take a brief pause to fact check the source and do their own investigation before sharing or forwarding information. Taking a pause to allow consideration of facts before sharing significantly reduces the amount of misinformation distributed.

When it comes to science in agriculture and food production, Yemmine says many individuals outside of the agriculture community — herself included — are not informed about agricultural science and innovation. Therefore, it is important for individuals within the agriculture industry to share reliable information.

Yemmine dismisses the phrase “just trust the experts” as it is misleading and encourages the public to instil trust in people due to their credentials. The reality is that credentials are used as a veil to disguise misinformation. Yemmine uses Dr. Oz as an example of someone who validates his recommendation behind his credentials. Dr. Oz is credited with being trained as a cardiologist but he preaches many things that are not good for the heart. Just because he is an M.D. does not automatically make him credible.

Finally, Yemmine discusses Aristotle’s three appeals to be persuasive: emotion, credibility, and logic. Acknowledging reasonable fears and emotions and rooting decisions in science and data is Yemmine’s recipe to being well informed.

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