Is Fake News rife in science?

Misinformation, more commonly described as ‘fake news’, is one of our most pressing topics, and is widely discussed in scientific circles.

A panel consisting of Rosie Boycott, Hannah Critchlow, Fiona Fox and Magdalena Skipper, chaired by Bronwen Maddox, analysed the extent to which fake news is discernible in science and whether it’s detectable in the coverage of science.

Neuroscience, the treatment of risk and MMR vaccines were among several examples cited.

Skipper said, “By and large, science is reported correctly. It’s those spectacular exceptions that we all talk about and hear about, and there is damage done through that.”

The consensus among the panel was markedly positive regarding the amount of fake news’ in science, but Rosie Boycott emphasised that big corporations can cherry-pick the information they want to use, which may distort the truth.

She said, “I don’t see how a lot of us can see through it [misinformation] without a necessary level of scepticism. You are told these things [scientific reports] by very authoritative sources; they are either your newspapers or big conglomerates or successful firms.”

“We’re up against big forces that act very cleverly and very subtly.”

If you are interested in science, also see Jo Dunkley talk about astrology at 1 pm, June 1. If you like watching Hay Festival events digitally, please sign up to the Hay Player for more from the world’s greatest thinkers.

Picture by Chris Athanasiou

L-R: Hannah Critchlow, Magdalena Skipper, Bronwen Maddox, Rosie  Boycott and Fiona Fox.