Misinformation trifecta: How disinformation spreaders weaponize science

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Credit: Union of Concerned Scientists
Credit: Union of Concerned Scientists

Recently it has become more apparent to me that often there is a common strategy to weaponizing misinformation. It’s likely always been there, but is getting more blatant.

The “misinformation trifecta” combines three synergistic strategies. The first is spreading the misinformation itself, factual claims that are wrong, misleading, fabricated, cherry-picked, or simply indifferent to the truth. This is the “payload”, if you will.

The failure of the knowledge deficit approach is largely due to the second component of the misinformation trifecta – we can conceptualize this in several ways: the death of expertise, attacks on the notion of truth itself, denialism, conspiracy theories, false balance, or alternative facts. The goal here is to create a world where there are no experts, where everything is opinion, and no institution or authority can be trusted. 

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But here comes the third component of the trifecta – all attempts at quality control can be attacked as an assault on free speech and some form of censorship.

This also feeds back nicely into the second strategy. If an article which is utter scientific dreck is not published in a scientific journal, then the journal is “censoring” free speech. No they aren’t.

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