Politicians need training on ‘fake news’ – Professor

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POLITICIANS may need to be trained to appreciate the role science plays in our lives and avoid falling for fake news, according to a Salford professor.

Andy Miah is part of a national drive to reassert the science agenda after a series of setbacks for evidence-based ‘truth’ including US President Trump’s dismissal of one of the greatest threats to the planet – global warming – as “bullshit”.

Professor Miah, a bioscientist and journalist, has just launched a new Masters course at Salford in Science Communication and Future Media to help bridge the digital skills gap in “getting the science message across”.

He is also part of a Government Office for Science and British Academy event called ‘Trust in Expertise’, co-chaired by the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sir Mark Walport, and the BA’s Foreign Secretary & Vice-President, Professor Ash Amin.

Chinese hoax

“It’s not an easy time for scientists to talk to the wider public,” he says. “Donald Trump, has called global warming “bullshit” and a “Chinese hoax”. In the UK, MP Michael Gove famously declared that people “have had enough of experts”.

“It is crucial that politicians are mindful of the consequences for science of dismissing journalism as ‘fake news’. There may now be a need for politicians to undertake training in understanding the scientific method to help them distinguish fact from fiction.”

Andy, a regular contributor in the national and scientific press, backs the Global March for Science this Saturday, April 22, when people will stand together in more than 100 cities worldwide to acknowledge the critical role that science plays in each of our lives.

Writing in The Conversation last week, Professor Miah said he agrees with a recent government inquiry into the alleged loss of faith in experts, which argues that scientists need support to be more prominent as communicators.

‘Dangerous’

He argues that the current malaise in science communication is due to a combination of the falling number of science journalists, a lack of recognition for academics, and the changing media landscape, notably social media ‘content’ masquerading as fact.

He also claims that the journalistic principle of ‘balance’ – presenting each opinion alongside the opposing view – is well-meaning but dangerous – leading, as it can, to scientific expertise being treated as a political opinion.

“In science there are many conclusions that the vast majority of scientists agree on – and these are grounded in strong scientific evidence. So giving voice to a maverick scientist may give the false impression that there is divided opinion on a topic. This has happened several times in the past, such as with the MMR vaccine and climate change.

“In a world where trust in expertise has been lost, it is crucial that we get across the message that science is more than just another opinion.”

For more information on this Saturday’s March for Science, see https://www.marchforscience.com/satellite-marches/?country=United%20Kingdom

Read Professor Miah’s article in full at The Conversation.

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