Information, Misinformation, and Health


INF2239H — Information, Misinformation, and Health

What is misinformation? How does it take root, how can it be identified, and what can be done about it? One way to distinguish misinformation from valid information is to examine outcomes. Misinformation generally leads to poor outcomes based on poor decision making, which is itself based on faulty understanding. However, there are many cognitive and social mechanisms that give rise to misinformation, and there is also an enormous degree of subjectivity and positionality concerning what actually constitutes misinformation. Exploring the causes, subjectivities, and consequences of misinformation is the focus of this course. Health is an ideal context for analysis for three reasons: it is literally vital to everyone, it is rife with conflict and disagreement about what is safe or dangerous, and health information beliefs are situated on a wide continuum of education, expertise, and ways of knowing. Grappling with the concept of critical information literacy is an integral part of the course.

This course unfolds in three parts. The first third is an exploration of epistemic foundations of knowing, with some emphasis on identifying limitations of positivism and the scientific method, and questioning health authority. The middle of the course focuses on the individual’s cognition, including health information seeking, information appraisal, and cognitive biases that can influence or impair understanding. The final third of the course is concerned with social dimensions of (mis)information and health, including intersectionality and health information, trust, and the postCOVID nature of expertise in public health.

Each of the three parts has a related assignment: (a) epistemology and knowledge claims (20%); (b) critical information appraisal of a chosen health topic (30%); (c) an essay on a cognitive, social, or epistemic dimension of misinformation in health (10% +