Since being named Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year in 2016, the term “post-truth” has enjoyed plenty of popularity. Post-truth refers to an environment in which objective facts are viewed as less relevant and influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion, personal beliefs, and opinions. A major catalyst of the post-truth era has been the accelerated spread of mis- and disinformation, where misinformation refers to false or misleading information spread regardless of intent, and disinformation is misinformation spread intentionally to deceive. The increase in both has made it harder to know what information to trust.
This flood of unreliable information impacts decisions in all aspects of our lives. In our personal life, decisions could range from choosing which car to buy to whether or not to follow local public health recommendations. In broader societal life, governments may make environmental policies that we must decide if we support, and political candidates make claims and promises on which we judge whether they are worthy of our votes. Without good evidence, our ability to make informed decisions and communicate rationally as citizens is seriously compromised, which threatens the health of our democracy.
We all have the right to access and understand evidence, especially when that evidence is being used to make decisions that impact our lives. However, knowing what evidence to trust is no easy feat in today’s complicated information landscape. Here, science has a role to play in helping to clarify the boundaries between fact, political framing, and opinion.
When it comes to combating misinformation, reactive techniques like debunking are common and useful but there are limits to their effectiveness. We also need proactive, upstream approaches in our toolbox that center information and science literacy and empower individuals to seek out and interact with evidence. By providing the tools to think critically about information and discern the reliability of the evidence we encounter, we can improve our collective capacity for informed decision-making and civic engagement.
That’s why today, we’re thrilled to present Evidence Matters, a Canada-wide, public knowledge and skills-based campaign that aims to place evidence at the heart of navigating everyday life.
The campaign centers around two resources that seek to empower individuals to effectively use evidence to inform their decisions and to hold individuals and organizations accountable for the claims they make.
In A Guide to Understanding Evidence, readers learn how to think critically about everyday evidence, from social media ads to claims made by politicians. In A Guide to Asking for Evidence, we offer direction on how to ask for evidence from different sources, including organizations, journalists, and elected representatives. We’ve also developed a third resource, the Companion Guide: Understanding Scientific Studies, in which we walk readers through the basics of scientific research so they can understand key components and conclusions of scientific papers.
And there’s more! We have an exciting month of programming lined up with events, panels, and activities for you to participate in! Join us next Wednesday, March 8th, at 12PM ET as we officially launch our new #EvidenceMatters website and resources and walk you through the new guides. Stay tuned for events each Wednesday in March featuring expert speakers from E4D, Let’s Talk Science, CIVIX Canada, The Global Commission on Evidence, The Samara Centre for Democracy, Science Up First, and award-winning journalists. The month of activities will culminate in E4D’s first ever Evidence Day on March 29, featuring a conversation with Canada’s Chief Science Advisor herself!
With this campaign, we aim to build a common language of science by facilitating public discussions about what we know and how we know it. Please share this campaign widely among your communities and networks, and help strengthen our democracy through good evidence, one conversation at a time!
The Evidence Matters campaign is funded in part by Canadian Heritage’s Digital Citizen Contribution Program.