Communication in an age of ‘fake news’

4th May 2017

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Gemma Fenn

Professionals need to be diligent in all communications.

As fake news appears to continue to shape our lives in 2017, a report by MPs on the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee, published in February, looked at the way science was being communicated to the public.

The findings revealed that the ‘Boaty McBoatface’ media furore over naming a new polar vessel had increased people’s engagement in science. However, the MPs said scientists needed to be more strategic in developing relationships with media and should engage more with the public.

Against the backdrop of a climate-change sceptic US president and the sparse coverage on the environment in the government’s Brexit documents, do environmental professionals also need to be more strategic in how they approach the media?

A recent Chatham House report into using wood biomass for heat and power concluded that biomass subsidies be revised. The findings were swiftly rebuked by the International Energy Agency. It claimed the study did not present an objective overview on the state of scientific understanding on the climate impacts of bioenergy.

The report still received widespread coverage on both the BBC and in New Scientist. With all parties respected communicators, who are politicians or the public to believe?

Without being drawn into this specific discussion, as professionals we must ensure that we are impartial, objective and diligent in all communications and in all the work we do.

It is now more important than ever to ensure that the information sources we use are sound and objective and, to the best of our knowledge, contain no conflicts of interest.

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