Spotlight paper in JAMA Network: Prof. Timothy Caulfield and Marco Zenone
The CDTRP would like to congratulate Prof. Timothy Caulfield, Professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health, and Research Director of the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta, and Marco Zenone, Research Associate at the University of Alberta Health Law Institute and PhD student at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine for their publication entitled “Newspaper Coverage of COVID-19 Vaccination Requirement for Organ Transplant“ recently published in JAMA Network!
Our Communications Manager, Stéphanie Larivière, asked Marco a few questions about the publication that you can read below.
Could you give a summary of the research and findings?
Our study investigated how newspaper coverage in Canada, the UK, and the US portrayed COVID-19 vaccination requirement for organ transplant. We found false balance in reporting, which referring to newspaper reporting that gave an “equal platform… to opposing views despite one view holding expert and evidentiary support” regarding COVID-19 vaccination requirement for organ transplant. This may contribute to misperceptions about a consensus medical viewpoint and create controversy where none exists.
Among all the articles you have consulted, which results surprised you the most?
It was surprising and sad to see many of the reasons opposing the requirements for transplant (vaccine safety concerns, etc.) were rooted in misinformation.
What is the biggest challenge when it comes to misinformation and debunking?
There are many challenges to combat misinformation and support debunking. One that stands out to me as especially hard to confront is the role of certain ideologic views, and how in some cases, misinformation is still believed even when indisputable evidence is presented to maintain such beliefs.
How could the CDTRP support the future directions of this work?
The CDTRP can continue its excellence work in pre-bunking potential misinformation about organ transplant requirements. Canadians equipped with the knowledge about why organ transplant requirements exist will be better prepared to rebut misinformation before it spreads.
Results demonstrated a false balance, referring to newspaper reporting that gave an “equal platform… to opposing views despite one view holding expert and evidentiary support” regarding COVID-19 vaccination requirement for organ transplant. A study limitation was using country-specific newspapers only, not grey literature or non-text-based sources.
Arguments for opposing vaccination were rooted in personal beliefs or misinformation about the systemic, medical, and ethical reasons for the requirement. While views of health care workers and other medical actors countered this frame, false balance may distort public perception on noncontroversial subjects when correct information is concurrently presented. Thus, reporting on COVID-19 vaccination requirement for organ transplant, which elevated the perspectives of vaccine refusal based on personal belief and misinformation, may contribute to misperceptions about a consensus medical viewpoint and create controversy where none exists.
Read Prof. Timothy Caulfield interview with the University of Alberta.
About Prof. Timothy Caulfield
Timothy Caulfield is a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy, a Professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health, and Research Director of the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta. His interdisciplinary research on topics like stem cells, genetics, research ethics, the public representations of science and public health policy has allowed him to publish over 350 academic articles. He has won numerous academic and writing awards and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. He contributes frequently to the popular press and is the author of two national bestsellers: The Cure for Everything: Untangling the Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness and Happiness (Penguin 2012) and Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?: When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash (Penguin 2015). His most recent book is Relax, Dammit!: A User’s Guide to the Age of Anxiety (Penguin Random House, 2020). Caulfield is also the host and co-producer of the award winning documentary TV show, A User’s Guide to Cheating Death, which has been shown in over 60 countries, including streaming on Netflix in North America.
More recently, Timothy has been appointed to the Order of Canada, one of Canada’s highest honours, in recognition of his extraordinary work fighting misinformation through his social media campaign #ScienceUpFirst.