Discussions on “misinformation” or “disinformation” campaigns have ravaged American political life in recent years, and they have served as a one of the primary catalysts for the political divide which we are facing today. Aside from politics, misinformation has been allowed to seep into other areas of American life, so much so that one of the largest inhibitors to progress in this country is not a difference of beliefs — but a difference of fundamental facts. Misinformation has infected science and medical fields, and it has allowed conspiracy theories to run rampant.
With right-wing media outlets such as QAnon becoming more and more popular among Americans, it is becoming equally challenging in discerning what can be considered fact, and what is simply entertaining fiction used to convince the uninformed. The most prevalent example of this is within the political arena, and the extremists of an ideology. Misinformation, however, extends into the nonpolitical world as well, with the most obvious example being science.
The rise of pseudoscience in America runs in tandem with the transition from news for information’s sake to entertainment reports. As science advances and becomes less and less easily comprehendible, pseudoscience emerges and individuals confuse real science with phenomena like aliens and Bigfoot. These topics become sensationalized and grab the attention of the public, instead of admittedly less flashy scientific endeavors.
When the growing concern for American scientific literacy is coupled with vast misinformation campaigns, it leads to a vastly uneducated public. In 2019, Pew Research Center released a study in which they concluded that seven out of 10 Americans who have obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher have satisfactory scientific knowledge. Meanwhile, only two out of 10 Americans with only a high school diploma are scientifically literate.
This is a startling statistic regarding the U.S. Education System and its ability to convey science to students who do not plan to go on to college. Now, perhaps those students do not plan on managing banks or working in hospitals, but they are registered voters. What they believe matters as much as the next, but the educational system and a proclivity for pseudoscience is robbing individuals of truth and delivering what is bright and shiny instead.
For example, look at the existence of global warming. Almost unanimously throughout the scientific community, there has been a consensus that climate change is a reality and that necessary steps toward preventing human-caused climate disasters must be taken in order for us to make this planet hospitable. Despite this overwhelming consensus, people like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) continue to amplify fringe scientists who deny this consensus.
In a hearing at the Subcommittee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Sen. Cruz questioned Retired Navy Admiral David Titley over measurements of global temperature rise. In this hearing, Cruz presents a skewed graph — one that shows data over the span of 1997 to 2016 — with quite an arbitrary time selection. Sen. Cruz’s graph gives the impression that the mean temperature for the last “18 years and nine months” has been relatively unchanged. In contrast, Admiral Titley’s graph — given the full context — presents the more accurate assessment that mean temperatures have been on the rise ever since the industrial revolution.
It’s fundamentally challenging to make progress in the political realm, when we can’t even agree on the basic facts that exist in the non-political realm. How are we to make steps towards environmental policy progress when just the raw data is a source of contention?
Misinformation and disinformation campaigns have been core to the increasing political divide in this country. Much of the policy struggles we have aren’t just based on difference of opinion — but a difference in fundamental data that drives those decisions. Misinformation has infected the world outside of politics, and if we are to make progress on a number of issues it is imperative that we work to close the misinformation divide.
Riley is an Opinion Editor at The Daily Cardinal and a Junior studying Computer Science and Journalism with an emphasis in Reporting. Ian-Michael is an Opinion Editor at The Daily Cardinal and a freshman studying Psychology with a pre-med track. Do you think another autocrat could pose a threat to American democracy? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ian-Michael Griffin is an Opinion Editor for The Daily Cardinal, and a member of the Editorial Board.