Review Article

Who is watching the World Health Organisation? ‘Post-truth’ moments beyond infodemic research

Travis M. Noakes, David Bell, Timothy D. Noakes
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 18, No 1 | a1263 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v18i1.1263 | © 2022 Travis M. Noakes, David Bell, Timothy D. Noakes | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 01 July 2022 | Published: 21 December 2022

About the author(s)

Travis M. Noakes, Department of Applied Design, Faculty of Informatics and Design, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Cape Town, South Africa
David Bell, Independent consultant, Lake Jackson, Texas, United States
Timothy D. Noakes, Department of Wellness Sciences, Faculty of Health and Wellness Sciences, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Cape Town, South Africa


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Abstract

The World Health Organization (WHO) has established a public research agenda to address infodemics. In these, ‘an overflow of information of varying quality surges across digital and physical environments’. The WHO’s expert panel has raised concerns that this can result in negative health behaviours and erosion of trust in health authorities and public health responses. In sponsoring this agenda, the WHO positioned itself as a custodian that can flag illegitimate narratives (misinformation), the spread of which can potentially result in societal harm. Such ‘post-truth’ moments are rife with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) public health emergency. It provides an opportunity for researchers to analyse divisions in knowledge labour, which can help explain when ‘post-truth’ moments arrive. The first COVID-19 example for this division foregrounds the development of knowledge in an academic context. Added to this is the infodemic or disinfodemic research agenda and personal health responsibility, whose academic contributors are similar. In contrast, the division of labour for messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccine research foregrounds the role of vaccine manufacturing pharmaceutical companies in driving and promoting related knowledge production.

Transdiciplinary Contribution: This analysis focuses on intergroup contradictions between the interests of agencies and their contrasting goals and across different types of knowledge division. Many intergroup contradictions exist, and a few intergroup examples are also described. An overarching contradiction was identified where rushed guidance based on weak evidence from international health organisations may well perpetuate negative health and other societal outcomes rather than ameliorate them.


Keywords

COVID-19; divisions in knowledge labour; intergroup contradictions; international health organisation; mRNA vaccines; pandemic.

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