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Scholarly Discourse on Political Misinformation: Scientific, Health, and Pandemic Misinformation

By Yi Ding

Scientific, Health, and Pandemic Misinformation

In 2020, the CEO of Ballad Health, a health-care corporation serving northeastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia, reportedly said that “there are people by that bedside literally holding the hands of people who are dying, many of whom didn’t even believe us when we told them they had COVID.”4 Narratives like this, exemplified in the collection Masks, Misinformation, and Making Do: Appalachian Health-Care Workers and the COVID-19 Pandemic, edited by Wendy Welch, illuminate the hidden struggles faced by healthcare workers in combating medical misinformation, which poses an especially significant threat to lives in rural America.

Beyond financial investment in underserved healthcare areas, the important role of media literacy education discussed in Masks, Misinformation, and Making Do also emerges as a recurrent theme in various scholarly manuscripts addressing misinformation. While scientific literacy remains foundational in reducing harm caused by misinformation, as elucidated in titles like Frank Spellman and Joni Price-Bayer’s In Defense of Science: Why Scientific Literacy Matters, this section of the bibliographic essay focuses specifically on health misinformation and particularly pandemic misinformation due to its intricate connection to political dynamics. Advocating for education as a pivotal tool in fighting against COVID-19 misinformation, the edited volume The Pandemic of Argumentation, edited by Steve Oswald et al., comprehensively analyzes the role of argumentative literacy—the critical examination of different arguments—in combating conspiracy theories related to the global health crisis. After exploring various features and aspects of public and institutional discussions and debates about the COVID-19 pandemic, this in-depth collection prescribes a range of measures, including concrete proposals for argumentative literacy, to improve the quality of public discourse. It is worth noting that both this title from Springer and the previously mentioned Masks, Misinformation, and Making Do from Ohio University Press have been made openly accessible.

Just as The Pandemic of Argumentation considers misinformation through the lens of rhetoric, literacy, and communication studies, COVID Communication: Exploring Pandemic Discourse, edited by Douglas Vakoch, John Pollock, and Amanda Caleb, also delves into diverse COVID-19 pandemic discourses. Specifically, this scholarly compilation examines the interplay among fake news, critical thinking, visual rhetoric, memes and brands, and social distancing, common themes within health literacy and communication.

On the practical dimension, the compilation Combating Online Health Misinformation: A Professional's Guide to Helping the Public, edited by Alla Keselman, Catherine Smith, and Amanda Wilson, offers an overview of the digital health information landscape. It delves into the factors and competencies influencing individual vulnerability and resilience. More importantly, this work explores educational and community engagement endeavors and important strategies that health and information professionals can employ to combat misinformation, such as understanding users’ information needs, cultivating trustful relationships with the public, and assisting users in scrutinizing and appraising sources. The inclusion of real-world examples—such as professional workshops on strategies for health professionals to discuss misinformation with patients, comic books and lessons to incorporate health information literacy into K–12 curriculum, and community engagement via social media and collaborations among libraries, public health departments, and healthcare service organizations—offer actionable insights for practitioners seeking to effectively tackle health misinformation.

4.  David McGee,  “Misinformation, Indifference Fuels Local COVID-19 Spike,” Herald Courier, December 4, 2020,