Narratives Can Help Science Counter Misinformation on Vaccines

Summary: Narratives and storytelling can help counter vaccine misinformation as the method can create a bridge between scientific evidence and human experience.

Source: Iowa State University

Narratives are a powerful tool that can help explain complex issues, but they can also serve as sources of misinformation, which presents a challenge as public health agencies work to educate people about COVID-19 vaccine.

In a paper published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, author Michael Dahlstrom, a professor and director of Iowa State University’s Greenlee School of Journalism and Mass Communication, examined how narratives or storytelling can help counter misinformation and provide a connection between science and the human experience. Dahlstrom says simply presenting the facts, without some connection, may not help people make informed decisions.

“If the person doesn’t have the context, background or experience to connect facts in accurate ways, you’re basically giving them puzzle pieces that might not fit together and then expecting them to make a clear picture,” he said. “In science, which is often complicated, it can be helpful to present the facts and show how they connect, so people see the broader landscape in an accurate way to make a decision.”

That’s important because narratives often have a disproportionate influence on attitudes and behaviors, when contrasted with scientific information. This is true whether the narrative is about vaccines, climate change or any other topic. Dahlstrom says we are hardwired to make sense of the world around us, and stories are the primary structure we use to make those connections.

This shows a doctor drawing a vaccine shot from a vial
That’s important because narratives often have a disproportionate influence on attitudes and behaviors, when contrasted with scientific information. Image is in the public domain

For example, a story about how the COVID-19 vaccine is allowing families to reconnect after months apart is more persuasive and compelling than explaining how the vaccine works and its efficacy, Dahlstrom said. However, he cautions that stories won’t always have an impact. On controversial issues, there will be people on both extremes who align with stories that confirm what they believe and attack stories counter to their beliefs.

As Dahlstrom explained in the paper, research has shown that audiences have a difficult time identifying errors in narratives and will generally accept those errors as fact. Even when people know a story is misleading or incorrect, they still tend to believe it, rather than disregard. That is why presenting an equally compelling narrative may be more effective than trying to counter that misinformation with facts alone.

“Narratives can be the cause and remedy of scientific misinformation. It really depends on how the narrator incorporates science in the message. Taking the facts and connecting them in a way that show human experiences add up over time,” Dahlstrom said. “The connections built by stories tend to embed themselves into the connections you’ve already made in your head. They are then deeply connected to other experiences, which is why they’re powerful.”

Dahlstrom says one final takeaway is that stories or narratives are not anti-science, which is often the perception of scientists. It’s how the author crafts the story or uses the narrative that is often the problem.

About this psychology and vaccines research news

Source: Iowa State University
Contact: Fred Love – Iowa State University
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access.
The narrative truth about scientific misinformation” by Michael F. Dahlstrom. PNAS


The narrative truth about scientific misinformation

Science and storytelling mean different things when they speak of truth. This difference leads some to blame storytelling for presenting a distorted view of science and contributing to misinformation. Yet others celebrate storytelling as a way to engage audiences and share accurate scientific information.

This review disentangles the complexities of how storytelling intersects with scientific misinformation.

Storytelling is the act of sharing a narrative, and science and narrative represent two distinct ways of constructing reality. Where science searches for broad patterns that capture general truths about the world, narratives search for connections through human experience that assign meaning and value to reality.

I explore how these contrasting conceptions of truth manifest across different contexts to either promote or counter scientific misinformation. I also identify gaps in the literature and identify promising future areas of research. Even with their differences, the underlying purpose of both science and narrative seeks to make sense of the world and find our place within it.

While narrative can indeed lead to scientific misinformation, narrative can also help science counter misinformation by providing meaning to reality that incorporates accurate science knowledge into human experience.

Join our Newsletter
I agree to have my personal information transferred to AWeber for Neuroscience Newsletter ( more information )
Sign up to receive our recent neuroscience headlines and summaries sent to your email once a day, totally free.
We hate spam and only use your email to contact you about newsletters. You can cancel your subscription any time.
  1. Good grief. There is nothing yet settled about these gene therapies for CoV-2. The trials were so short and shallow that nothing much came from them. And certainly there is no long term data, as in 5-10 year data similar to many previously concocted vaccines. The pharma narrative is 100% guesswork for the express purpose of pushing gene therapies on billions of people to fill their profit coffers.

    These ship-shod trials used RRR (relative risk reduction) calculations of the data and anyone in statistics knows this is the coward’s way out. Using the far more accurate ARR (absolute risk reduction) calculations, we see that with the provided data, as limited as it is, the efficacy of Pfizer and Moderna gene therapies might hit 2%….not the propagandized 95%.

    In fact, nowhere in the trail results presented to the FDA or CDC is there any stated proof these injections will stop the transmission of any disease, prevent death from any disease or prevent anyone from contracting any disease. All standard narrative (data) given for most other regular flu-type vaccines.

    So the narrative needs to be highly questioning and all the goody-goody stories mean nothing in the long run if these concoctions prove to be non-ethical and non-usable. This is nowhere near being proved one way or the other.

    Serious considerations must be given to possible ADE events in the future and there is absolutely no way pharma can state these possibilities do not exist, as they already have said. Since all corona virus vaccines have failed miserably in the last 2 decades, it is a crime against life and humanity to blatantly assume these will be any better. So why do 7 billion lab rats need to be used as test fodder?

    SARS CoV-2, in reality has a fatality rate of well less than that 1/4 of 1 percent…nowhere near a pandemic, emergency or supportive of the unbridled fear created by the TV news narrative with is 100% cowflop. And I ask why all alternative views and data are being censored and suppressed if there is nothing to hide from the public? Narrative involves controversy, questioning and the satisfaction of truthful answers of which few are forthcoming.

    I firmly remain in the “never going to get another vaccination” camp until some believable expert with absolutely no conflicting interests can convince me otherwise. Fauci ain’t it, for sure and for certain.

Comments are closed.