Social media has been a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, experts (scientists, doctors etc.) can become far more prominent – on the other hand, misinformation endorsed by an expert carries more weight and causes more harm than if there’s no authority behind it.
Unfortunately, social media algorithms also reward churning out content quickly, regardless of accuracy. Hot takes and fearmongering get far more engagement than measured opinions – during the benzene in sunscreen frenzy, there was no shortage of media quotes, Instagram posts and TikTok videos from dermatologists and scientists with basic errors that could’ve been avoided if they simply read the report, or did a quick PubMed search before commenting.
And then there’s the issue where the misinformation spreads further than the correction. Often there isn’t even a record of the correction, and you’re left wondering if you imagined the whole thing. This is great for the public perception that experts are all-knowing infallible superhumans, but I don’t think it’s great for science literacy and learning in general. It’s normal for experts to make mistakes, and it should be expected and commended that they’ll change their minds when they come across information they haven’t seen before.
I make mistakes all the time, and I’d much rather correct them than inadvertently spread misinformation. Lab Muffin is almost 10 years old, and there’s definitely things I’ve said in the past that I’ve contradicted with newer posts after I’ve thought about it for longer, or realised that sources I used in the past weren’t as reliable as I assumed. And it’s always far more difficult to spot mistakes after you’ve stared at the document for hours.
One thing I do with my students is if they spot 5 or 10 legitimate mistakes I make while teaching, I buy the whole class donuts at the end of term. That way, no one goes home wondering if they misunderstood what I said, and we can openly discuss misconceptions and areas of ambiguity.
So this is an attempt to replicate that through the internet, and try to normalise openly correcting mistakes and adjusting our understanding of things (which is, after all, how science works!).
Here’s a form for reporting mistakes in my content: Lab Muffin Donut Points Form
When there’s a reasonable milestone of mistakes I’ve made, I’ll host a live Q&A with a donation function and donate the proceeds to charity, and match the donations. The people who spotted the mistakes can vote on the charity, and the best mistake finders will also get a special prize.
Typos count as 0.1 points, and differences in opinion don’t count as mistakes (although what used to be a difference in opinion in the past might count as a mistake now, especially if new studies have come out – I’ll try to be as objective as possible in judging these!).