The Socioeconomic Impacts of Science and Health Misinformation


Misinformation is not a new phenomenon, but the speed and intensity with which it spreads is increasing and concerning. There is an urgent need to critically examine the real-life impacts of science and health misinformation, which can affect the well-being of people, communities, and the environment in Canada and beyond. Its impacts can range from benign to serious.

As COVID-19 circulated the globe, a corresponding surge in misinformation followed. False information about masks, treatments, and vaccines undermined public trust, sowed confusion, and affected the spread and containment of the virus.

Misinformation can complicate efforts to engage the public on important topics, particularly where the science is complex, incomplete, or changing. The public may also have valid questions and concerns that left unaddressed can fuel misunderstandings.

In some places, vaccine hesitancy has threatened herd immunity, causing infectious diseases, such as measles, to re-emerge. Conspiracy theories and false narratives about climate change, GMOs, and other critical issues can also affect people’s trust in scientific findings, medical advancements, leading edge-research, and science-based policies. Misinformation may come from friends or family members who inadvertently share it, but in other instances, false or misleading information, or “disinformation,” is intentionally created or shared by malicious actors. Social media platforms have allowed both mis- and disinformation to thrive largely unchecked, though efforts are underway to identify and stop false information from spreading online.

This assessment will examine the socioeconomic costs of misinformation and the impact on public trust in, engagement with, and understanding of science and science-informed policies, as well as leading practices for assessing and responding to misinformation.

The Sponsor:

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED)

The Question:

What are the socioeconomic impacts of science and health misinformation and disinformation on the public and public policy in Canada?