There is a new fact-checking platform for science questions being developed called Metafact. This effort is designed to make valid science information readily accessible to the average citizen. To accomplish this objective, the platform matches verified scientists and experts to questions posed by users. So far, Metafact has verified 11,398 experts in 389 specialties from 555 institutions.
I visited the founder, Ben McNeil, at the University of New South Wales in 2015. At the time, Ben had just initiated a program called Thinkable to help researchers find funding. I was in Australia to attend a conference and made time to visit Ben to give a talk and to discuss science communication (see this post for more details).
To find out more about this new effort and to support it, check out Metafact’s Kickstarter page. To sign up as an expert, go here.
You’ve probably seen viral videos claiming some medical breakthrough and cleverly titled “Use this weird trick to cure [insert ailment]”. People seem to find this teaser title irresistible. Jonathan Jarry and colleagues at McGill University’s Office for Science and Society use a similar title for a video that has a surprising twist in store for gullible viewers: “This natural trick can cure your cancer”.
The video initially claims to present a cure for cancer based on a species of moss (Funariidae karkinolytae), that has been known since the 1800s. The reason you’ve not heard about it, the video claims, is because the knowledge has been suppressed by pharmaceutical companies. The video then shows an old, black and white photograph of a Dr. Johan R. Tarjany, who looks very professorial in his three-piece suit and bow tie, and describes him as the discoverer of the moss’s cancer-killing trait. The video then goes on to tell the story of the moss and how it kills cancer cells by altering their DNA. And, of course, Dr. Tarjany added the moss to his diet and guess what? He never developed cancer.
At this point, the viewer is probably impressed with Dr. Tarjany and his discovery. Except there is no Dr. Tarjany and everything so far presented is untrue. In the remaining minute, the video deconstructs the claims it made earlier about Dr. Tarjany and the cancer-killing moss. In the process, the video’s creators provide a blueprint for viewers to follow when confronted by such a claim–how to evaluate the “evidence” and look for inconsistencies in the “facts” presented.
In just a couple of minutes, this video shows how viewers can be fooled into believing a pseudoscientific idea and how to avoid it–and did it in a way that was entertaining. Using the pseudoscience playbook to make the video was particularly clever and effective. Check it out below (the comments are also interesting–see the link to YouTube):
In my latest series of posts, I’ve been focusing on why scientists and other science professionals should be using video to share their experiences and to explain why their work matters to society. One reason is to combat the false information about science topics (the Earth is flat, NASA faked the moon landing, vaccines cause autism, etc.) and the anti-science movement, which questions the need for research and the motives of scientists. Such groups are technically savvy and understand the power of video to spread their message.
Now I’m not suggesting that you take on these anti-science folks.
Instead, you can make a video highlighting why your research is important and at the same time show your enthusiasm and dedication to finding solutions to problems. In other words, put a human face on the science. Videos featuring women and minorities are particularly needed to help inspire a more diverse scientific community. The following video accomplishes that objective by interviewing a South African scientist talking not only about what she researches but what attracted her to science in the first place.
Another video showing a large team of scientists on an expedition to collect deep ocean cores counters the outdated idea of the lone scientist working in an isolated laboratory. The video features scientists from different countries working together, day and night, to accomplish their research goals. In addition, the video shows the great care the scientists take in collecting, storing, and analyzing their core samples. Such videos give a more accurate picture of how and where scientists work and the diverse makeup of scientific teams.
An increasing number of scientists and science organizations are using video to show how science is conducted and why scientific research is important to society. Such videos are particularly effective when they not only show what scientists do, but show who scientists are and what motivates them. The video I’ve embedded below explains how a NASA-funded project is studying the effects of isolation on a group of people—in preparation for establishing a colony on Mars.
To make such a video interesting to viewers, the videographer needs to use a variety of perspectives. In the following tutorial, I describe 20 basic camera shots that filmmakers use and that you can easily replicate, even with a smartphone.
In a previous post, I talked about how the public’s view of science and scientists is skewed toward the laboratory as a primary location where science takes place. I pointed out that for many scientists, their laboratory is a rainforest in Central America, a desert in the US Southwest, the bottom of the Pacific ocean, or a cave in Canada. Yet the layperson’s image is most often of a white-coated scientist working in a sterile laboratory (google “draw a scientist” and see what images you find).
To raise awareness by the public (especially prospective science students), more field scientists need to film where they do their research and post them on media-sharing sites. The video embedded below (Spelunking in Search of Antibiotics) is a good example. It is only two minutes long and required only a brief break during their field trip to film. Yet the message it sends is that scientists work in fascinating places and are often intrepid explorers seeking answers in the most remote corners of our planet.
Such a video is incredibly easy to film and edit with a smartphone. The following tutorial provides a few, basic tips (using an iPhone, but the tips are relevant for all smartphones):