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60(ish) Seconds: Navigating the Infodemic, Part III

In the third of a four-part series titled “Navigating the Infodemic”, CapU Library’s Krystyna Nowak explains that accepting uncertainty can help students become better academics.

infodemic

Uncertainty is part of research. Yet, many students are asked to approach research by looking at two sides of an issue and proving who has the answer.

But good research isn’t about binary thinking. It’s about asking questions, and sometimes finding more questions than answers. And for some people this can be really motivating and exciting, but for many, uncertainty is deeply uncomfortable.

Accepting uncertainty can help students become better academics, but it can also help them in online environments where conspiracy theories spread easily. Conspiracy theories often arise out of crisis situations, like COVID-19, when people want answers. This can be made worse when public advice and information change rapidly, and when any trace of uncertainty can be used to discredit science, spread lies and encourage inaction.

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So what can we do to help students accept some uncertainty in their lives?

We can highlight the limitations sections of academic articles, and point out how good academic writing involves showing what answers you don’t have. We can also look at studies with different results and discuss how long it can take until we really “know” something. We can highlight where researchers found answers that differed from their expectations to show that good research isn’t proving you’re right, but can be about asking important questions without anticipating answers.