Articles and videos about the newest technologies, scientific breakthroughs, and solutions to problems we might not have known existed inundate social media feeds. Artificial intelligence, vaccines, and renewable energy are some of the topics you may have encountered recently, where a writer or videographer explains the benefits and risks of science in your life. Yet, audiences face the problems of how to know whether to trust the science information they find in the media, and how to use it when making decisions.
This is where science media literacy comes in. It is a form of media literacy with specific focus on the relationship between how scientific research is communicated through media, and the way audiences interpret and integrate what they find. Using critical thinking to evaluate science encountered through media can help anyone navigate this sometimes helpful and interesting, sometimes complex and dangerous, information environment.
Since misinformation and disinformation are so rampant, especially when it comes to science information about health, climate change, and the politicization of science, applying principles of science media literacy to verify the source and content of the information is a necessity. Using the following skills can help in this endeavor.
First, check multiple sources for reports on new science information, including the research article it is based on (if possible). Checking to see what other sources have to say can help contextualize how others are discussing the topic, and what perspectives may have been biased in interpreting the findings.
Second, critically think about the content expressed about the topic. Here are some ways to do that, which are similar to the National Association of Media Literacy Education core principles, but adapted for science-specific media messages:
All media messages that contain science information are “constructed” by people and use medium/context-specific techniques
Media messages that contain science information are produced for particular purposes (have goals)
All media messages that contain science information contain embedded values and points of view.
People construct their own meanings from media messages that contain science information based on their skills and experiences.
Media and media messages about science can influence beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviors, and society.
Third, be aware of your emotions. Some information may cause feelings of anger or fear, and some outlets can frame information in ways that the original scientists never intended. Watch out for intense or extreme emotions, and listen to and let other emotions inform your decisions. This should be done in collaboration with logic and the first two skills already mentioned.
Fourth, ask an expert if possible. Many scientists, doctors, professors, and researchers want to engage with the people they seek to help with their work. Sending an email or a social media post to them will often result in further context and resources that can help.
By adopting these skills everyone can become more literate of the science information encountered in media environments, and improve the way it is integrated into life and society for the better.