Graham Dixon (and co-authors) recently published a paper in the Journal of Communication exploring the complicated nature of correcting scientific misinformation. He and his colleagues found that exposure to conflicting information about a scientific issue, such as whether vaccines cause autism, can increase scientific misperceptions. The researchers then investigated whether including “weight-of-evidence” information (i.e., stating that only one view is supported by evidence and a scientific consensus) along with the conflicting information helped reduce the misperception effect. Including weight-of-evidence information fostered more accurate beliefs about an autism-vaccine link, but only for people with favorable pre-existing scientific views. However, this conditional effect disappeared when visual exemplars accompanied weight-of-evidence information, suggesting that visual depictions of a scientific consensus could be an important tool for science communication.

 

Dixon, G., McKeever, B., Holton, A., Clarke, C., & Eosco, G. (2015).The power of a picture: Overcoming scientific misinformation by communicating weight of evidence information with visual exemplars. Journal of Communication, doi: 10.1111/jcom.12159

 

Abstract

Although most experts agree that vaccines do not cause autism, a considerable portion of the American public believes in a link. In an experiment (N = 371), we identified journalistic balance as a source of misperception about this issue and examined ways to attenuate misperceptions. In particular, by including weight-of-evidence information (i.e., stating that only one view is supported by evidence and a scientific consensus), we explored whether an article can present conflicting views without causing misperceptions. Including weight-of-evidence information fostered more accurate beliefs about an autism–vaccine link, but only for people with favorable pre-existing scientific views. However, this conditional effect disappeared when visual exemplars accompanied weight-of-evidence information. The findings of this study have both theoretical and practical implications for science communication.