Scientists collaborate to sort fact from fiction in climate change media coverage

Climate Feedback quote from Naomi Oreskes
© Climate Feedback

A new global collaboration platform aims to help the general public know which climate change articles they can trust, based on evaluations and feedback from actual scientists.

Even as the media coverage of climate issues continues to grow, so does the amount of climate misinformation and the number of misinterpretations of climate data and research findings, which can lead to mistrust and skepticism about those issues. Part of that may be because of the never-ending quest for readers and pageviews, which is behind the rash of clickbait headlines and sensational "science by press release," wherein writers spin an article around the most buzzworthy element in the story, which may or may not be relevant or even true, and which then becomes referenced as a "fact" in future articles.

Another part of the climate change coverage is driven by opposition and skepticism, which also falls prey to the lure of click-worthy headlines and the use of data taken out of context, or which conveniently leaves out part of the story in order to cater to their audience's beliefs and to support their own viewpoint.

Either way, when it comes to climate coverage, it's hard for the average non-scientist to weed out the junk science and junk reporting, and to be able to identify accurate information about climate issues. And if it's hard to tell what's truth and what's fiction in climate news, it's going to be even harder to build the level of trust, interest, and buy-in from enough people in order to transform our energy, food, and water systems into more resilient and more sustainable versions. So not only is it important that inaccuracies in climate reporting from opposition groups be addressed and refuted, but it's also important that well-intentioned but misleading environmental reporting also be corrected.

And that's where Climate Feedback comes in. Climate Feedback, which is a "global network of 100+ scientists and counting," aims to add a peer-review element to online climate coverage, essentially allowing scientists to annotate climate articles on the web and give feedback on the scientific accuracy of the stories. The platform will allow readers to see the annotations along with the original article, so that they can see any inconsistencies or errors and get a more accurate understanding of climate science. Climate Feedback will also help publishers and journalists produce more accurate climate stories, and to get connected with expert sources working in the field, and could help boost reader trust levels for future coverage if they know the articles are peer-reviewed, in a sense.

Climate Feedback is also building a "Scientific Trust Tracker," which will serve as a reliable resource for the public to reference when evaluating the credibility of the news organizations and websites behind the climate reporting, and allow readers to know who to trust when it comes to online climate coverage. In order to really boost the Climate Feedback project, and provide more annotations on climate stories, the organization is actively crowdfunding on Indiegogo, with a goal of raising $30,000 USD over the next month. Considering that the climate is one of the hottest topics in the media, and in politics, these days, it sure does seem like a natural fit for news organizations to help fund, similar to the way that experts and other professional resources are maintained by those outlets.

"Climate Feedback brings the expertise of the scientific community into the world of online climate coverage to provide readers and authors with in-situ feedback about the content’s scientific credibility.

Climate Feedback is a project born from the reality that we are at a critical moment in history, one in which important decisions about climate change must be made. It’s a project born from the understanding that in order for our democracies to choose the right courses of action, citizens must have access to scientifically accurate information. And it’s a project born from the belief that it’s the civic duty of scientific professionals to better inform their fellow citizens in their respective areas of expertise."

If you'd like to get a dose of scientific accuracy with your climate journalism, head over to the "Scientific Feedbacks" page on Climate Feedback, and if you'd like to see a sea change in climate coverage, consider becoming a backer of the #StandWithScience campaign. And if you're a scientist, consider applying to be a part of this innovative climate science media initiative.

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