MIT study finds anti-maskers ‘trust science’ more than others

President Joe Biden takes notes during a briefing on the shootings in Atlanta Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in the Oval Office Dining Room of the White House. (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)

It turns out that the “skeptics” and “anti-maskers” who often are mocked by media and government for challenging the conventional narrative regarding the COVID-19 pandemic are the ones who “trust the science,” according to a study by MIT researchers.

The study, “Viral Visualizations: How Coronavirus Skeptics Use Orthodox Data Practices to Promote Unorthodox Science Online,” analyzed the viewpoint of skeptics toward the pandemic from March to September 2020, largely by studying Facebook groups and Twitter posts, the National File reported.

“For these anti-mask users, their approach to the pandemic is grounded in more scientific rigor, not less,” the researchers concluded.

The MIT study examined the interaction between anti-maskers and visualizations of the coronavirus data that were published by mainstream science outlets and governments.

The common perception is that the anti-maskers are scientifically illiterate, but the study found they emphasize originally produced content and strive to be “guided solely by the data.”

Many participants made their own graphs and instructed others on how to access raw data.

“In other words, anti-maskers value unmediated access to information and privilege personal research and direct reading over ‘expert’ interpretations,” the researchers wrote.

They found that “users in these communities are deeply invested in forms of critique and knowledge production that they recognise as markers of scientific expertise.”

And, “if anything, anti-mask science has extended the traditional tools of data analysis by taking up the theoretical mantle of recent critical studies of visualization.”

The researchers concluded that the anti-maskers’ interpretation of data and science  shows they are “more sophisticated in their understanding of how scientific knowledge is socially constructed than their ideological adversaries, who espouse naïve realism about the ‘objective’ truth of public health data.”

The MIT study observered that to simply “trust the science” is to ignore the fact that “data visualizations are not a neutral window onto an observer-independent reality,” and that “during a pandemic, they are an arena of political struggle.”

Governments, the anti-maskers contend, portray data in a “non-neutral” manner, omitting many of the “important metrics.”

“The lack of transparency within these data collection systems – which many of these users infer as a lack of honesty – erodes these users’ trust within both government institutions and the datasets they release,” the researchers said.

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Author: Art Moore

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