Dealing with Misinformation + Error Reporting Form

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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!).

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10 thoughts on “Dealing with Misinformation + Error Reporting Form”

  1. Wow, imagine if, in the U.S. for example, we could utilize such a fun and fair way of getting past our huge Covid woes. Thanks for setting such a fine example of how things can be so much better.

    Reply
  2. That sounds very interesting, it could be a real force for good. I do hope that people respect it and use it as it is meant to be rather than a way of bashing you with their “opinions”.

    Reply
  3. Michelle sorry to annoy you with this but what are your thoughts on the Thailand “coral-damaging” sunscreen ban? I’d like to hear your opinion about it, do we have any new studies or is this still a misconception?

    Reply
  4. The opportunity to correct a mistake is great, but I am very concerned with a balance between giving unsolicited advice and correcting mistakes in our ordinary non-scientific life.
    For example, if a person with so called normal skin does something completely useless but unharmful in his / her skincare, should I inform him / her that his actions are a waste of time and money from the scientific point of view?
    If this person is an influencer, than what? If this person knows that his actions are useless, so what?
    I do not know, really.

    Reply
    • I think that’s where it goes into “difference of opinion” territory – and whether things are “a waste of time and money” isn’t a question that can be answered universally for everyone by science.

      Reply

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