Written by Vitalba Crivello.
Much has been said and written about mis- and disinformation in science in recent years. The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and the related health crisis inevitably triggered growing concern about the negative effects of false news and deceptive narratives on the public, notably on the level of trust which communities have in science, and on media reporting on scientific subjects. The European Science-Media Hub (ESMH) workshop ‘Promoting trust in science to combat misinformation’, hosted by the European Parliament Liaison Office (EPLO) in Spain (Madrid) in May 2022 offered an opportunity to share some insights.
Spanish community of science journalism reunited at the ESMH workshop
With evident enthusiasm, one of the 60 science journalists and communicators attending the event told us: ‘We have not sat together in the same room for a long time! What a great chance the ESMH has given to us to meet and talk once again about science!‘. The EPLO Office in Madrid’s Sala Europa was indeed packed for the panel’s debate, as the event was successfully held in-person, having been delayed by many months of Covid‑19 related restrictions.
The seminar began with Member of the European Parliament and Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) member Lina Gálvez Muñoz (S&D, Spain), speaking on the engagement of and the critical role played by the European Parliament to promote quality information, and a warm welcome from EPLO Press Officer Damián Castaño Martín. Vitalba Crivello, STOA Policy Analyst, then spoke about the specific role of the ESMH in providing evidence-based science communication and gave a short introduction on the activities of the Hub.
The floor was then left to the experts, with a roundtable on the importance of trust in science in tackling misinformation. The conversation was shaped by Michele Catanzaro, science journalist, who moderated the debate between Cary Funk, Director of science and society research at Pew Research Center, Sonia Contera, Professor of Biological Physics at the University of Oxford and Senior Fellow at the Oxford Martin School and Green Templeton College, Patricia Férnandez de Lis, Director of Materia, ElPáis, and Pampa García Molina, Editor-in-chief at Agencia SINC and Director of the Science Media Centre Spain. The workshop was held in Spanish, with some interpretation from English. You can watch the workshop and listen to the main messages here.
Engaging with the community of science journalism in Europe
What tools can science journalists and communicators use to combat misinformation?
What role can they play in the current complex information arena?
How can we engage the public in quality science information, based on trust?
These questions – among others – are recurrent in ESMH networking workshops for journalists and science communicators, Science-Media Days, which ESMH has been organising over the last two years.
These seminars are part of the ‘Engaging science journalists in the activities of the ESMH’ project, launched in 2019. Aiming at increasing its visibility among science journalists, the project intended to reach media-makers working for national or local media outlets and institutions in a decentralised country-by-country approach. Six countries were chosen to be part of a pilot project: Czechia, Germany, Finland, France, Spain and Sweden.
The project should deliver two main outputs:
- a focus group study on media working standards, including a survey on science media representatives specific needs and expectations for better access to information at the European level;
- country-specific workshops – ‘Science-Media Days’ – to promote networking and to match the ESMH seminars to their audiences’ expectations and needs.
Within that context, the pilot study investigated the media environment and setting for science journalism and science communication in the selected countries. It combined an overview of the European science-media landscape with the opinions of selected journalists, interviewed as part of a focus group. The objective was also to show media-makers that the ESMH can offer them some opportunities. The study also allowed first contacts to be established with local communities, in view of organising seminars in situ later on.
ESMH Science-Media Days
Due to the pandemic, in-person workshops obviously could not take place during the last two years, and had to be postponed. At the same time, however, the health crisis clearly demonstrated the need for evidence-based science information and the crucial role quality science journalism plays in our society. The crisis also showed how important good interaction between policy-makers, scientists and media is in promoting sound science. Adapting to the pandemic context, the ESMH organised the first two networking workshops online, in close cooperation with the EPLOs in the respective countries:
- ‘Science & misinformation: the first pandemic in the digital age‘, 22 March 2021, in cooperation with EPLO Lisbon, in Portuguese;
- ‘Coronavirus: is misinformation more contagious than the virus?’, September 2020, in cooperation with EPLO Berlin, in English.
The ESMH plans to organise further ‘Science-Media Days’ in other EU Member States in the near future, to continue promoting the role of the Hub in the European science-media landscape and seeking for further and closer cooperation with the various media communities. The final objective remains the same, consistent with the Hub’s mandate, i.e.promoting and implementing a quality and evidence-based science communication based on trust and capable of engaging the public in the conversation about science and technology topics.