Sunday, January 29

People with right-wing ideology are more willing to believe scientific hoaxes

“The positions further to the right of the ideological scale have a lower ability to identify true and false information.” The survey on scientific misinformation in Spain produced by the Fecyt (Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology) has tested in this edition the ability of people to discern between real and false information and concludes that issues such as ideology, media literacy or trust in institutions have an effect on this issue. Being a woman or a young person also has a positive impact when it comes to identifying true information.

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To carry out the survey, the participants were presented with headlines on scientific information from generalist media and also others verified as false by the cursed platform., on which they had to comment. The result of this test is that “in general terms, the Spanish population does know how to distinguish between true and false information”, but there are factors that influence this ability.

One of them is where one is on the ideological scale, and the more to the right, says Fecyt, the more propensity one will have to accept hoaxes. “It can be explained by the avoidance of cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1975) that can be produced when confronting some information with the beliefs held”, the authors explain. It happens specifically with climate change –which the right sometimes denies or minimizes–, the survey points out: “Motivated reasoning (Kunda, 1990) plays an important role in the dissemination of disinformation about climate change, since in this case the Political ideology influences the propensity to share misinformation.

Fecyt admits that “scientific knowledge is very specialized” and points out that to bring it closer to people “it is necessary to promote knowledge about the social practices used by the scientific community to produce reliable knowledge, such as the importance of consensus or peer review, and the ability to question the reliability of a source and its specialized scientific expertise in the area in question (Osborne, J. & Pimentel, D., 2022)”.

To try to prevent ideology from hindering people’s ability to analyze whether information is true or false, the Foundation proposes “avoid ‘politicizing’ scientific findings and differentiate these from political measures or decisions, in which other social factors , economic, ethical, etc. They also play an important role.

One in four people has received false information in the last week

And the problem is very present, because the hoaxes are too. The survey shows that one in four people say they have received false information on scientific issues in the last week (27.6%), especially content related to the pandemic or the COVID vaccine (37.5%), the change climate (32.7%) or nutrition (30%). Most of this information, the respondents said, reached them through social networks (61.7% of cases), instant messaging applications (43.8%) and television (40.6%).

And not everyone is able to manage the information they receive in the same way. Among the population, 11% say they are very sure that they can distinguish real facts from false ones, but 10.5% say they are not at all sure, as explained by the Sociology professor and co-director of the survey, Celia Díaz. “By level of studies, there is a big difference between people who are more secure, especially university students. Among those who are not at all sure of identifying this false information, there are practically double the number of people with primary or lower education”, the expert stated.

Regarding the effects of this misinformation, 63.2% fully agree that the circulation of misinformation or hoaxes can have detrimental effects on the health of the population; 71.5% that misinformation and hoaxes have the ability to manipulate people’s beliefs; 63.3% that misinformation and hoaxes cause citizens to distrust the institutions; and 53.6% that the circulation of hoaxes among the publication about Covid 19 has had a detrimental effect on the credibility of scientists and experts.

The study also indicates that 14.4% of Spaniards search every day or almost every day for information on science and technology, 17% are interested in food and physical well-being, 15.2% on medicine and health and the 10.4% on environment.

During the presentation of the survey, the researcher and scientific co-director of the study, Pablo Cabrera, explained that radio, television and friends and family are the channels to which Spaniards attribute greater confidence when it comes to accessing the information, followed by the printed press, the online press and finally social networks and video platforms.

graphics of Raul Sanchez.