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The Focus on Misinformation in Science and Society 

Dan Williams (Sussex)

In recent years, there has been significant alarm among experts, policymakers, and the general public concerning the prevalence and harms of misinformation. According to the narrative driving this alarm, many dangerous social and political trends are rooted in popular misperceptions that citizens acquire from exposure to misinformation. This narrative raises an obvious question: What is misinformation? I argue that misinformation experts face a dilemma when answering this question. If they focus on clear-cut cases of misinformation, misinformation is relatively rare and largely symptomatic of other problems, such as polarisation and institutional distrust. However, if they broaden their focus to include subtler ways in which communication can be misleading even when it is not demonstrably false, the concept of misinformation becomes so expansive, amorphous, and value-laden that it is unsuitable for scientific classification and technocratic policy guidance.

The Institute of Philosophy hosts a regular workshop series entitled ‘The Practical, the Political, and the Ethical’.
The series was created in 2015 by Véronique Munoz-Dardé (UCL) and Hallvard Lillehammer (Birkbeck) in order to discuss work in progress from visiting speakers.
This year the series is convened by Elise Woodard (KCL) and Michael Hannon (Nottingham). Talks are normally 45 minutes (no pre-circulation of the paper), followed by discussion. All are welcome.