Making sense of all the facts (Day 249)

FactsI have spoken before about the importance of making sure that we get our chemical engineering voice heard, but I am often shocked when I read stories in the media (particularly those on social media) that have no basis in reality.

It seems to have become the norm for many stories to be perpetuated without even having their basic facts checked.

I have been a close follower of the work of Sense About Science for a while now and was pleased to see the launch of Fact Check Central as a medium people can use to read, search and share fact checking blogs.

Last year I wrote a blog on Sense About Science’s work debunking common chemical misconceptions; see ‘Can you lead a chemical-free life?’, however their work follows several strands all aiming to work with scientists and members of the public to change public debates and to equip people to make sense of science and evidence.

Sense About Science are currently running a number of campaigns that I would encourage you to investigate further and even get involved yourself (as I know some IChemE members already are) including; Ask for Evidence, AllTrials, Science for celebrities, Energy panel.

NewspaperWhen I read my morning newspaper I often read articles detailing the latest ‘scientific’ developments; from diets to global development. But I find the ‘facts’ represented are used to support different conclusions, depending on the story.

Whilst we must have an open forum in which we debate our work we must ensure that it is not being misrepresented as no one benefits from using incorrect information or ignoring things that are true.

For many years Sense About Science have worked to correct errors in media reports using their For the Record programme for people to check facts.

However this only covers a small range of work that the team can pull together. The launch of Fact Check Central is aimed at finding a way to bring together all the good work being done to enable us all to read, search and share fact checking blogs from across the web.

The aim of Fact Check Central isn’t just about separating true from false, but instead about giving proper context to the claims and bluster that often surrounds controversial issues (which you can often see is the focus of my own blog pieces).

IChemE past president Judith Hackitt has long had to deal with the misappropriation of ‘health and safety’ as an attempt to grab headlines in the main stream media. A few of the blogs you can find featured on Fact Check Central are written by her and offer an interesting insight the work of the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

If you see a science or engineering story being misrepresented in the media I would urge you to make sure you point out the mistakes made. As chemical engineers we have a responsibility to ensure that the public receives an honest and open representation of the facts of our work.

2 thoughts on “Making sense of all the facts (Day 249)”

  1. I have not purchased a newspaper for more a decade and I have never purchased one regularly at any time in my life. Recently I have only read ones that I happen to pick up when bored. The media is now so full of unreliable information that it is worse than useless. Even the BBC has presented a lot of dubious information including “What the Papers Say” which is just free advertising for the privately owned press.

    I now only rely on specialist magazines where the journalist have the time to check their facts. The general media now presents such poor quality information that it is the cause of many problems and much of what it does is in the “public disinterest” rather than in the “public interest”. In the struggle to make papers pay they are doing anything to try sell their wares. Sadly the mantra of never letting the facts get in the way of good story has become ever more true.

    Sense about Science is to be encouraged but it will be an uphill struggle. I will add there web page to my reading as it will help to gain a better understanding.


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