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Researchers need to work harder to combat misinformation online, says Demos

A new report from Demos looking into how research and development is discussed and communicated about online shows the need for researchers to work harder to be a bigger part of the online conversation, in order to combat the rise of misinformation.

The report [published on 4 December], supported by Wellcome, calls on researchers to take steps to ensure expertise and evidence is more effectively part of discussions online through the production of more engaging content. One of these steps includes more explicitly linking research to the lived experience of relevant people and communities.

Beyond the Bubble also found that individuals observed across a range of social media platforms express scepticism about possible applications of new research, and sometimes the motivation behind it. The report showed that the public instead want to see clarity and transparency from those carrying out research.

The report makes further recommendations for how researchers can better communicate their research to the public, including:

  • Mitigating scepticism of research through integrity, clarity and transparency around the motivation behind it and the possible applications of the research
  • Making partnerships with existing influencers
  • Highlighting the future applications of the research. People are invested in developments which are groundbreaking, completely new or cutting-edge
  • Making content people-focussed, using case studies of people with admirable qualities and displaying lived experiences

Commenting on the report’s findings, Elliot Jones, Researcher at Demos and Beyond the Bubble co-author said:

“Social media is often accused of causing a breakdown in trust, as users can struggle to differentiate between true and false information, and the most popular content isn’t always the most accurate. However, if researchers use platforms’ optimisation for virality to their advantage, social media is an opportunity to open up expertise to the public. Researchers need to work harder to be a greater part of online conversations in order to create an informed debate, or we risk facts becoming ever more distorted and misused.“

Dr Ben Bleasdale, Policy and Advocacy Officer at Wellcome, said: 

“In recent months science has been thrust up the political agenda with promises of funding on an unprecedented scale. But this enthusiasm will not last. As today’s report shows, the science community needs to develop a voice and a vision for science investment that can capture hearts, as well as minds.”

The research also found that many pieces of scientific research are discussed in political context and used as a way to endorse an existing view with new research findings. This gets a significant amount of traction compared to other presentations of findings, showing that researchers must find ways of effectively reaching those who would usually oppose the view that the findings support.

The full report can be found here.


Media Contact

Josh Tapper, Communications Officer, Demos
Phone:  020 3878 3955 | 07535748224 (out of hours)

About Demos

Demos is Britain’s leading cross-party think-tank: an independent, educational charity, which produces original and innovative research. 

About Wellcome

Wellcome are a politically and financially independent foundation, existing to improve health by helping great ideas to thrive. Wellcome supports researchers, takes on big health challenges, campaigns for better science, and helps everyone get involved with science and health research. 

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