Can science literacy help individuals identify misinformation in everyday life?

Can science literacy help individuals identify misinformation in everyday life? A recent paper by Aviv and Ayelet in the prestigious journal Science Education addresses this question. Misinformation is not new, and it seems to have been on the minds of science educators with respect to vaccine hesitancy as well as other issues such as global warming and water fluoridation. However, preparing the public to identify misinformation became an even more pressing concern with the outbreak of COVID-19, which has been branded an “infodemic.” In response, over the last few years, science educators have been discussing the importance of imparting science literacy for decision-making, both in civic contexts and in the context of personal health and safety. But can science literacy help individuals distinguish reliable information from false claims in all of these contexts?

Aviv and Ayelet claim that the answer is “Yes, science literacy can help, but not in the way we usually think about it.” They show that when analyzing the components of this concept, one sees that some of its components are highly relevant to identifying misinformation, but these are not the ones commonly used in definitions of science literacy. They also focus on a specific component: intellectual virtues and habits of mind, such as open-mindedness, and argue that it should be central to imparting science literacy, because it helps individuals accept reliable information that goes against their worldview and helps them reject highly tempting misinformation that happens to conform with their worldview. They also propose some implications for educational practice, based on previous work in science education and in other fields.