I am a cognitive scientist with an interest in how people update their memories if information they believe turn out to be false. This has led me to examine the persistence of misinformation and spread of “fake news” in society, including conspiracy theories. I have become particularly interested in the variables that determine whether or not people accept scientific evidence, for example surrounding vaccinations or climate science.
Imagine a world that considers knowledge to be “elitist”. Imagine a world in which it is not medical knowledge but a free-for-all opinion market on Twitter that determines whether a newly emergent strain of avian flu is really contagious to humans. This dystopian future is still just that—a possible future. However, there are signs that public discourse is evolving in this direction: Concerns with “post-truth” politicians and “fake news” have exploded into media and public discourse during the last few years. I examine some putative causes for those trends, and how they are expressed in people’s attitudes towards scientific propositions with a particular focus on vaccinations. One important driver of vaccine hesitancy is political worldview, with opposition on the political right being particularly prominent. I review some options that are available to communicators in politically-charged environments. I also show that the public can be protected against misinformation through cognitive inoculation which provides people with the skills to recognize questionable information.