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ASCR: It is imperative to join efforts against misinformation in the sciences, as advocated by the European Academies

Disinformation in science is dangerous – it undermines confidence in expert opinion and threatens informed decision-making at the political level. For now, the avalanche has centered on disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination issues. So the European Association of Academies of Sciences (ALLEA) is encouraging a coordinated response. He recommends the creation of a European Center for Scientific Communication and one rulebook.

ASCR: It is imperative to join efforts against misinformation in the sciences, as advocated by the European Academies
picture: AV cr
explained: Logo of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic

It is not at all easy for an educated person, let alone the majority of the population, to know how a viral infection attacks our immune system and how types of covid-19 vaccines work. Thus, the level of inaccurate and misleading information, or misinformation and deception directly in this area, is not surprising. Especially in the event of a pandemic that threatens human health, and thus threatens the economic and political systems around the world, this is a very dangerous phenomenon.

The European Association of Academies of Sciences (ALLEA) has published a document Real or fake? Addressing scientific misinformation (Facts or hoax? Fighting misinformation in science). Its authors rely on analyzing misinformation and its implications not only on epidemics and vaccination, but also on the topic of climate change. Finally, it provides specific recommendations on how to address the problem. According to representatives of European academies, more emphasis should be placed on explaining how science works. Strong public participation in the research would also help.

We are thinking critically

“I consider teaching focused on developing critical thinking to be crucial in the long run, even when it comes to working with scientific knowledge and media literacy,” says Dalibor Dupias of AS CR, who represented the academy at ALLEA. Sciences of the Czech Republic. It indicates that in the Czech Republic, for example, high school students have the opportunity to participate in research work (among other things within the project. Open science). Not only young people, but actually anyone can also participate in so-called civic science projects (in English Citizen Science).

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“An educated society can reduce the impact of scientific misinformation in the long run. The way in which even people who do not have specialized knowledge of any information operate is crucial,” adds Dalibor-Dubias. According to him, the current epidemic clearly demonstrated the critical role of research in society, but at the same time it revealed the limits of good mediation of research results towards the public. All the time, voices were heard from scientists to help mitigate the damage of the pandemic. “But did they have an adequate response? If not, why? Does the way in which some media have reported the situation corresponds to its severity?” Dalibor Dubiash asks.

Better coordination

Similar questions stimulated the activities of the European Association of Academies of Sciences (ALLEA). The result of international discussions was a recommendation to establish a European Center for the Communication of Science. It can support the exchange of experiences and a general view of individual research institutions outside the country in which they operate. According to European academics, a coordinated approach is needed because disinformation transcends national and linguistic boundaries.

“In terms of scientific communication, there is still no central pan-European mechanism or institution to coordinate existing initiatives and develop guidelines and recommendations,” the ALLEA report said.

The European Blog for Communication on Science should be another tool for combating disinformation. For example, ALLEA has in the past issued a European Code of Scientific Integrity based on the collaboration of its member academies. In the case of new code, it should relate to establishing basic rules and principles that will help ensure that scientific information is not intentionally or unintentionally distorted in media that share the code.

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The European Association of Science Academies (ALLEA) was founded in 1994 and currently covers more than 50 academies of sciences from more than 40 European countries. In cooperation with its members, ALLEA seeks to improve the international conditions for science, provides advice and seeks to enhance the role of research in society.

Read the full text of the ALLEA document entitled Real or fake? Addressing scientific misinformation.

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