Skeptical People and the Consumption of Misinformation (Science Edition)

by | Jun 9, 2021 | Podcast | 0 comments

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Shahida Shahrir Mellon, MPH and doctoral candidate at the University of Washington in the department of Health Services, joins us on the podcast to discuss science skepticism and the spread of misinformation, and how that correlates to our current Covid vaccination numbers within the United States. 

We discuss how personal biases affect not only how research in medicine is conducted, but how we consume research and science in our daily lives. We’re looking at best practices in how we can better consume information, and diving deeper into what the role of science should ideally be in our lives, family’s and community.

How does bias play a role in science and research?

It’s so important to look at our lives, our work, our influence and assess our bias. Have you thought about why that is important in research? How is data collection changing and shaping science?

  • Acknowledge the tribal lands which we occupy
  • The importance of positionality and location statements (who are you?)
  • Understand and define Biomedical paradigm and why there is greater emphasis to address the biases we have in research

Where do we get our information and how can we do better?

Okay, so we look at how recognizing bias in data collection MATTERS, what about consuming information? We have seen this dangerous trend with news, and it is especially apparent now with the consumption of science or medical related information. People seem to think that they’re qualified to be a PhD in whatever they google these days. We also need to look inwards as we think about how bias plays a role in the consumption of information.

Skepticism is only healthy when you embrace evidence  

There is no fine line to measure a healthy level of skepticism. I am not a scientist by trade, but consider myself intelligent. Not because I have a master’s degree but rather I consider the scientific method a pretty sound and reasonable way to approach thinking. Neil deGrasse Tyson beautifully captures the balance we should strive for in his Masterclass: 

“A skeptic will question claims, then embrace the evidence. A denier will question claims, then reject the evidence.”

As Shahida and I dissect our own experience and roles as skeptics, we’re tying everything together to understand the general movement of skeptical people and the consumption of misinformation: 

  • The larger problem of science skepticism, biases against “experts” 
    • “Let’s acknowledge when science is limited…”
      • Fractured trust in medical institutions, pharmaceutical companies
      • There is a lot we don’t know about vaccines and won’t know until later 
      • Science is not infallible, it is an evolving process based on new discoveries and information
    • Science translation has not been as good as it should be 
    • Randomized controlled trial is the most sound methodological study design to test the efficacy and effectiveness of any treatment (considered the gold standard) 
      • Clinical trials are incredibly rigorous, vaccine trials have enrolled thousands of participants with effort to include diverse populations 
      • Outcome for protecting against coronavirus is outstanding  
      • Many other reasons to be vaccinated (can discuss)
    • Majority of science and medical communities have been in support of the vaccine and that should mean something 
      • Really, we should marvel at how quickly we were able to create an effective vaccine and mobilize its distribution – success, not a detriment 

Striving for the greater good

Setting aside the risks and benefits around the vaccination discussion, Shahida encourages all of us to hold to a higher guiding principal. “Don’t et the great be the enemy of the good,” especially when public health is concerned. “We can collectively make some reasonable sacrifices. So the rest of the our community can be safe. Because that’s what it means to be part of a community where we all need each other and depend on one another.”

MPH and PhD candidate discusses science and skepticism
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Special Guest: Shahida Shahrir Mellon

Shahida has her MPH and is PhD Candidate in Health Services and Program Operations Specialist at The University of Washington. She is a Wife, mother, traveler and karaoke enthusiast. She is proud to call herself an “eternal student.” Served a two-year service as a Maternal and Child Health volunteer with the United States Peace Corps in Morocco. 

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