Last week, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Annual Meeting in San Jose, Calif., Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) Director Kathleen Hall Jamieson participated in a panel titled, “Scientists Communicating Challenging Issues.” There, she gave advice for breaking the deadlock around scientific issues, such as global climate change. She said groups like NASA should use their credibility on both sides of the political aisle to lend weight to the cold, hard facts that underpin decisions relating to those topics.
But what happens when politicians make a habit of treating matters of scientific fact as matters of opinion?
Jamieson had an answer for that, as well, in the newly launched APPC project SciCheck.
Established through a grant from the Stanton Foundation, whose philanthropic portfolio includes funding for projects aimed at the “creation of a better informed citizenry,” SciCheck is an extension of the APPC’s award-winning FactCheck.org, which takes a non-partisan approach to researching whether the claims and statements made by political figures are true or not.
Eugene Kiely, director of FactCheck.org, sees SciCheck as dovetailing with the APPC’s new “Science of Science Communication” program, as well as a necessary complement to the Center’s expertise in assessing the truthfulness of claims made about other technical topics, such as healthcare and economics.
“In watching the coverage of the Ebola outbreak, for example, it became painfully clear to us that unless you know your stuff, it’s very easy to be misled,” Kiely says. “We felt we needed to bring in somebody with a science-writing background, who has the resources and contacts within the scientific world and who can catch things that might fly just under our radar.”
That science writer is Dave Levitan, who was hired at the end of January and has already delved into the veracity of public statements about global warming, vaccines, and the economic impact of the Human Genome Project.
Levitan describes the goals of the project as two-fold.
“One is to make sure that people are not misinformed about things in their daily life, because they might be getting their information from politicians,” Levitan says. “And two, is to make sure that the policies of the country are more based on reality than not.”