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Ina Park Corrects Misinformation About Sexually Transmitted Infections

Myths, false claims and reports of bad science can spread like wildfire on social media and by word of mouth, but scientists affiliated with AAAS programs are working strategically to combat science misinformation. In the video series “AAAS Voices: Countering Science Misinformation,” experts explain the challenges of misinformation on addressing timely topics such as climate change, technology and health, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Scientists share how they combat misinformation and offer strategies for how their fellow scientists can productively address and correct the inaccuracies they encounter.

As a sexual health researcher, Ina Park knows that a long history of stigma against sexually transmitted infections continues to have significant impacts.

“My field is rife with misinformation because it is such a taboo subject,” said Ina Park, professor in the departments of Family and Community Medicine and Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco. Park is also a medical consultant for the Division of STD Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the medical director of the California Prevention Training Center.

She emphasized the importance of talking about sexual health and sexually transmitted infections and pushing back against misinformation. For instance, anti-vaccination efforts have sought to discredit the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, but data show that the vaccine is safe and effective and can prevent more than 90 percent of cancer cases caused by HPV, Park noted. Additionally, many people taking HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, might assume that they are protected from all sexually transmitted infections and forgo barrier methods like condoms – misinformation that has affected rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.

“We are at an all-time high for reported STIs to the CDC,” said Park.

As a AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute fellow, Park gained concrete skills for communicating science and pushing back against scientific misinformation on a variety of platforms.

In the video, Park offers reputable resources for anyone seeking accurate sexual health information. In particular, she encourages health care providers to share their own stories on how, for instance, HPV vaccination helped themselves, their families or their patients.

Said Park, “Those personal narratives go a long way in countering things that folks read online, and when they come from a trusted source like yourself, they are more likely to sway patients.”