Misinformation scholarship is not new, it just got more attention due to Brexit and Trump - and that's due to the left finally focusing on an issue when it's happening on the other side.

Prior to 2021 there was little concern among the left about the anti-vax movement - because it was dominated by their tribe. Academic progressive waved away overwhelming CDC data showing a clear apolitical demarcation by trotting out surveys showing the denial was not that small.

Yet if you asked who's more likely to deny evolution, the right or left, the left reflexively declared it was Republicans. Except the different between the left and right on evolution was only 9 points - far smaller than the denial of vaccine by the left.

It's not dismissed as a 'moral panic' and impossible to quantify now, the left says the science is on their side and Republicans are truly stupid. The author of a recent claim saying that misinformation went up sharply due to Trump and Brexit, both reviled by people who prefer more centralized government control over everyday life, as ignoring growing literature that draws on interpretivist philosophies...well, you can stop right there. 'Growing literature' and 'emerging evidence' are codespeak in science for 'we found a paper we agree with' because it is the kind of thing Dan Brown uses to create conspiracies. No complaints about that, it's fiction, just like in any paper claiming misinformation suddenly went up, and they have an easy cause-and-effect why.

In reality, it just got ignored until the right got better at it.(1) For example, the Obama administration was busted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for engaging in “covert propaganda” by using taxpayer money and agencies to do social media promotion of its bizarrely-named Clean Water Act expansion. After he had already been caught doing the same for his Medicaid and Education Department expansions. How many academic scholars, which skew to the left by 90 percent in America, worried about misinformation when it was their party doing it? 

Not many, much like vaccines only became a public health crisis when after 25 years of steady left-wing dominance flipped to the right in 2021. 

The authors rightly respond to criticism of their work by noting that other attempts at misinformation are thin veils for social justice activism, using jingo-ism about racial and imperial histories and they note that disinformation research was done due to Deepwater Horizon. Yet even that was politically-slanted. Claims that Big Oil was lying were exhaustively detailed while the Obama administration suppressing government scientists who didn't write what his administration wanted, and were replaced by verbiage from groups who donated to him, got little mention.

While such research was not invented due to the election of Donald Trump or Brexit, those two events certainly lit a match for scholars who wanted to fight against both, barely bothering to mask that it was for political reasons.

Like gun scholarship, we may never get apolitical scholarship, at least not while academics remain in their fourth decade of only selecting from their own tribe for faculty positions, but that doesn't mean it won't ever be done. Gun research with federal money was 'banned', according to Obama lawyers who interpreted it that way, by the Clinton administration but so was human embryonic stem cell research, and hESC technology got created outside federal funding and only got federal money once his Republican successor was in office and saw its potential.

It may be the same with misinformation also. Right now, the right has caught up to the left in doing it, so now the left wants to study it, but once both have moved on to new tactics it may be calm enough information can be gathered objectively. COVID-19 will be a great place to start. Democrats now claim Republicans are anti-vaccine but in 2020 when FDA fast-tracked a vaccine journalists and Secretary Biden railed against 'conservatives' who they claimed were doing an end-run around safety - which really means they didn't want a Republican to get credit for it during an election.

Now Republicans oppose it because Biden took credit for it, saying he did an end-run around safety/

A neutral group will one day be able to sift through the wreckage politics has left behind and come up with who was really out to subvert the science at any cost. Until then, scholars have no quantifiable way to note their ideological conflicts of interest, so disinformation research isn't going to be taken seriously, ironically unless political pundits happen to agree with the conclusion.


(1) Congressman Lyndon Johnson promoted a rumor that his incumbent opponent for the Senate race had sex with farm animals - and won. Senator John Kennedy clearly lost the 1960 election to Richard Nixon but journalists refused to discuss the dead people voting for him in...wait for it...Johnson's Texas and Daley's Chicago that magically gave him enough electoral votes to win.

While both of those are exceptional abuses of mis- and dis-information they are not isolated.