What analyzing fact checks can teach us about science communication

What analyzing fact checks can teach us about science communication

Author: Gudrun Reijnierse – Radboud University, Netherlands


  • Marten van der Meulen – Radboud University, Netherlands

Science news reporting is under pressure. The ever-accelerating news cycle has increased ‘quick & dirty’ reporting, and this development is exacerbated by the budget cuts that have struck many science desks. This, in turn, has led to expertise becoming scarcer, at a time when hyperspecialization in science necessitates the opposite. Mistakes in communicating science to the public are an inevitable result of these developments. These mistakes, combined with the apparent cavalier attitude of certain politicians towards (scientific) facts, have caused a new journalistic genre to emerge: the science fact check.

By evaluating the accuracy of science-based claims, fact-checkers are able to correct inaccurate representations of science using substantiated considerations. Through the resulting fact checks, the public can expand their knowledge of how scientific processes and practices work. More importantly, they are exposed to critical thinking about these processes and about the way in which these are communicated in the media. In this sense, science fact checks represent a potentially influential new tool in developing scientific literacy. However, to understand this possible influence, we have to study the science fact check as a genre.

For this presentation, we perform qualitative and quantitative content analyses of almost 2,000 fact checks from Dutch print media. We examine which types of claims are fact-checked and which scientific disciplines they stem from. We also investigate which pitfalls in science-public communication are remarked on most (e.g. causation, validity, presentation). Preliminary results show a focus on claims related to health, food, and climate matters, and a predilection for checking number-based statements. At the conference, we will report more on this ongoing investigation. Our findings can inform practitioners, researchers, and members of the public about the promises and problems of current science communication.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Transformation