Health and Science Controversies in the Digital World: News, Mis/Disinformation and Public Engagement

Publisher: Special Issue, Media and Communication, 6(2)


Digital media open a vast array of avenues for lay people to engage with news, information and debates about the science and health issues that shape their private and public life. Many of these are innovative and effective in providing users with the voices to go with their eyes and ears about science issues. At the same time, however, recent climate-change-denial, anti-vaccination, pro-creationism and other campaigns show that digital media could become a fertile land for vested interests to spread mis-and dis-information, stimulate uncivil discussions and engender ill-informed, dangerous public decisions. On social networking sites, for example, people’s values, beliefs and emotions are often brought to the forefront—with the substantial aid of algorithms—and/or skillfully deployed for political, commercial and/or religious gains, at the expense of scientific evidence.

This thematic issue invites scholarly investigations—critical, interpretive or empirical—into the above and their implications for public engagement with scientific evidence. We welcome contributions on the pros and cons of digital media in science debates and how they might impact public understanding, attitudes and actions regarding science and health issues. Topics might include, but are not limited to, issues around the following broad questions:

1. How is mis/disinformation around science controversies produced, distributed and redistributed in digital environments? 2. In what ways do laypeople use social media to obtain news, gain knowledge and/or engage with science controversies—and with what effects? 3. How do factual knowledge and scientific evidence interact with emotions and values/beliefs in the fast-moving digital world to shape public engagement with science controversies? 4. Is the authority of the scientific expert declining faster in social platforms than other media environments? Why or why not? 5. What techniques and strategies can the news media employ to tackle the dark sides of digital technologies in public communication of controversial science issues? 6. What are the potential mechanisms for the news media, the science establishment and the civil society to cooperate in the fight against science mis/disinformation online?

Source: Manual