Dotting the i in Science

Everyone in the academic research community has a duty to protect the integrity of science. We must all strive to ensure the accuracy and robustness of our work and call out misleading and false information wherever we find it. Publishers go to extraordinary lengths to ensure the articles they publish are accurate and truthful through their editorial and peer review processes. But science is easy to twist and pervert once it reaches the public domain.

It is in the digital world that we must be ever vigilant and correct the dangerous misinformation that pervades. It is a sad truth that falsehoods spread faster than the truth.

Many STM members have set up their own task forces to raise awareness of best practice and ethical conduct in research, investigate unethical practices, provide training and investigation resources, as well as acting as advisors for internal staff and editors.

Others have opened up the peer review process, publishing peer review history alongside the article to give great transparency into the process of scientific assessment.

The industry is also embracing the international movement to improve best practice in the assessment of scholarly research. The Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) recognizes the need to improve the ways in which the outputs of scholarly research are evaluated. The declaration was developed in 2012 during the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology in San Francisco. It has become a worldwide initiative covering all scholarly disciplines and all key stakeholders including funders, publishers, professional societies, institutions, and researchers. STM encourages all individuals and organizations who are interested in developing and promoting best practice in the assessment of scholarly research to sign DORA.

Spotting fake scientific news

STM is now calling for everyone in the research ecosystem, from researchers to librarians to call out fake scientific news when they spot it.

Here are eight ways to spot misinformation:

  1. Source suspicion. Vague, untraceable sources, such as ‘a doctor friend of a friend’ or ‘scientists say’ without further details, should ring alarm bells.
  1. Bad language. Most trustworthy sources are regular communicators, so poor spelling, grammar or punctuation are grounds for suspicion.
  1. Emotional contagion. If something makes you angry or overjoyed, be on your guard. Miscreants know that messages that trigger strong emotions get shared the most.
  1. News gold or fool’s gold? Genuine scoops are rare. If information is reported by only one source, beware — especially if it suggests that something is being hidden from you.
  1. False accounting. Use of fake social-media accounts, such as @BBCNewsTonight, is a classic trick. Look out for misleading images and bogus web addresses, too.
  1. If someone urges you to share their sensational news, they might just want a share of the resulting advertising revenue.
  1. Follow the money. Think about who stands to gain from you believing extraordinary claims.
  1. Fact-check check. Go past the headlines and read a story to the end. If it sounds dubious, search fact-checking websites to see whether it has already been debunked.