Oxford Martin School launches new research programme on science misinformation

27 November 2017

Adobe Stock_139324261FINAL
© Adobe Stock

A new research programme supported by the Oxford Martin School and involving the Oxford Internet Institute and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism will examine the interplay between misinformation campaigns, news coverage, and platform companies in public understanding of science and technological innovation.

The new programme, Misinformation, Science and Media, will involve a multidisciplinary team of researchers, and collaborators led by Professor Philip N. Howard from the Oxford Internet Institute and Professor Rasmus Kleis Nielsen from the Reuters Institute.

The aim is to increase understanding of how misinformation campaigns, “junk science”, and false news in influencing—or even undermining—public understanding of scientific issues from climate change to the causes of cancer. The programme aims to develop evidence-based recommendations for scientists, journalists, and policymakers interested in effective science communication and public understanding in the 21st century.

“The time to advocate for evidence-based policy making is now” says Programme Co-Director, Professor Philip N. Howard; “Understanding how social media campaigns can derail sensible public policy conversations is the important starting point for us. Figuring out how to better communicate scientific consensus to journalists, political leaders, and the interested public is our ultimate goal.”

The new programme will specifically investigate the degree to which misinformation campaigns can direct digital and social media advertising to citizens during sensitive moments when scientific expertise would normally be part of the process of evidence-based policy making, and will look at how bots or fake accounts on Twitter and Facebook amplify such messages to real communities of users. It’ll also examine how scientists, journalists, and policymakers engage with misinformation campaigns and, importantly, identify ways to overcome the problems these campaigns create.