Much has been written lately on disinformation, particularly regarding right-wing extremism and COVID-19. Few attempts, however, have been made to classify specific forms of disinformation, and little attention has been paid to disinformation’s impact on scholarly communications. This essay identifies three types of disinformation affecting academic publishing based on authorial intent: parodic, which critiques the scholarly process through mimicry and humour; opportunist, which seeks to promote the author’s scholarly image; and malicious, which distorts the reader’s perception of a controversial issue like vaccination or climate change. In doing so, the paper provides an overview of notable instances of published disinformation, such as the Sokal affair, while highlighting the current threat of pandemic-related disinformation posing as scholarly research. The malicious disinformation section also explores how academic and pseudoscientific parlance can be adopted by white nationalists and conspiracy theorists. This paper demonstrates that a taxonomic approach to published disinformation can simultaneously make identifying falsified academic research easier, while exposing vulnerabilities in the publishing system. Furthermore, it also attempts to raise awareness of published disinformation as not just a problem confined to academia, but rather a contributor to the ongoing ‘culture wars’ and a potential threat to both public health and national security.

Keywords - disinformation, strategic communications, strategic communication, United States, COVID-19, Donald Trump

About the Author: Will White holds a Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He has researched with the World Health Organisation, University of Illinois Information Quality Lab, and John Deere. His research interests include mis/disinformation, information warfare, extremism, and information literacy.