The pandemic highlights the importance of science literacy.

Social Media has been a source of information during the pandemic. However, the dearth of science-based guidance has created a void where misleading information proliferates.

Acceptance of disinformation by the public can result in a cascade of adverse events such as people drinking alcohol as a cure Covid, that claimed hundreds of lives.

Likewise, attempts to improve blood oxygen levels by steam or nebulizer could prove fatal as they keep a patient away from the hospital and a time-sensitive proper treatment.

More recently, when the developing world started vaccinating healthcare workers, in getting vaccine jabs, many refused the vaccine saying it might have side effects. Several still stay confused and keep asking about the best vaccine.

This shows a lack of basic scientific knowledge of how vaccines are developed and how they work.

Last year, a former US president had suggested injecting disinfectants or irradiating UV light as a treatment. Trump believed that it was just a flu. His ignorance of science-based recommendations resulted in the spread of Covid-19, killing millions of Americans.

Unlike the US, countries whose leadership responded more scientifically were able to contain the virus.

In most of the world - conspiracy theories about the virus and its vaccines can be associated with science ILLITERACY. Likewise, mitigation strategies such as the installation of walk-through disinfecting gates and fumigation of streets lack scientific basis.

Treating viral diseases with antibiotics, homeopathic medicines, and some magic tea shows a dearth of basic scientific knowledge.

Why does society believe in misinformation and conspiracy theories?

According to brain scientists, a healthy prefrontal cortex is needed to interpret information received by the brain. Careful interpretation of data requires extensive training and practise and can be learned as part of primary, secondary, and higher education.

Suboptimal education likely weakened our brains' prefrontal cortex, leaving us susceptible to misinformation and false beliefs.

By increasing science literacy, the public can better test claims they hear, watch or read, and differentiate science from conspiracy theories.

A recent study supports the idea that  high quality education and science literacy can strengthen the brain, protecting it from false beliefs during times of crisis and uncertainty.

We need to prepare for the next pandemic of misinformation by promoting science literacy from early childhood. Scientific literacy can help people believe in pressing global challenges such as drug resistance, climate change, pandemics.

Also, national policies in every developing country, supporting science literacy throughout the life span are required.

Besides teaching basic science concepts, scientific thinking, and the scientific method, the philosophy of science must also be introduced. So that the public could differentiate science from pseudoscience, bad science, and misinformation.

The World Students Society thanks author Muhammed Zaheer, an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at LUMS.


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