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Posted on 14 January 2021 by Group Clifton

AuthentiSci: Enabling Scientists to Provide Guidance in a Post-Factual Era of Media

In June 2020, Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings held the Online Science Days, a four-day digital exchange of talks and debates about current global problems tackled from different scientific disciplines.  Of particular interest, as part of the transition to a virtual event, the organisers prepared an Online Sciathon, a 48-hours event focused on three topics: Capitalism after Corona, Communicating Climate Change and the Lindau Guidelines. A total of 48 teams designed, developed, structured and wrote-up 48 projects within 48 hours. On top of this, each “hackathon”-style project produced a 2-minute video clip within the time limit.  Now, imagine trying to accomplish all this in one weekend with a team of people who have never met before, thousands of miles apart, across multiple time-zones, with different responsibilities, professional backgrounds and languages. Although seemingly impossible, the teams met the deadline! It was a truly exciting and inspirational weekend.

Bring Science and Society Closer Together

Our team – Group Clifton – was in the Lindau Guidelines category together with 15 other teams. It consisted of six Lindau Alumni (from United Kingdom, Japan, Spain and Morocco) and two young scientists (from Canada and Venezuela) selected to attend the 2021 Meeting. Despite the difficulties of the virtual, international environment, our team had efficient communication, mutual understanding, discipline and enthusiasm to accomplish our goals and meet the deadline. We had an ambitious list of ideas and every task was effectively delegated according to each one’s skillset. We developed the initial idea, structured our project, wrote the software, recorded a video and created the website, authentisci.com – which displays our vision and describes the main functionality of our tool.  After a lot of rushing and buckets of coffee, authentiSci was born! Our team won second place, but more importantly, this event brought together scientists from across the world that share the same ideals: improving the bridge between science and society. 

Communicating Research to Public

As scientists, regardless of our discipline, we have an obligation to communicate our research to the general public. In this global digitised era, the majority of news is communicated online facilitating rapid spread of information, regardless of its quality. This intensifies with escalated use of social media to access information.

Working virtually together

As a result, the chances of inaccuracies and misinterpretation are dramatically increasing every day in our society, causing delays in our approach to current global problems, and consolidating our post-factual era. And this is exactly where authentiSci fits in, facilitating the sharing of science news, whilst protecting the accuracy of scientific discoveries.

Browser Extension

AuthentiSci is an online platform that promotes the accurate dissemination and interpretation of research findings by allowing scientists to provide feedback on the scientific validity of online media. Scientists have the experience and training to acknowledge the credibility of scientific information reported on the internet targeted for the public population. This feedback process for the authentication of media reports is urgently needed.  To achieve this, authentiSci consists of an online user-friendly web browser extension that allows scientists to effortlessly intervene in the space between media and the public. 

The feedback scientists provide is visualised as a score that the general public can use to check the validity of science media publications. Each rating is based on the clarity of the article, the quality of the sources, and the extent of bias. A numerical ordinal scale from 0 to 10 represents the rating. All scores are accumulated and averaged on a database, together with the total number of scientists that have provided ratings. To avoid abuse, scientists must be authenticated using their ORCiD ID to access the authentiSci ratings system. ORCiD IDs are widely used by researchers to aggregate their publications and patents and are regularly used in grant applications.  

Fake or not?

How can we maximise the impact of authentiSci? For instance, let’s imagine that 10 percent of the ~32,000 scientists from the Lindau Alumni Network used authentiSci to rate 3 online media articles each, we could quickly approach 10,000 article ratings, providing the public with a broad array of opinions to refer to.  Our tool is suitable for any academic discipline and, conceivably, any academic expert in any field can fact-check media articles and maintain accurate communication of their discipline. We hope that with a little awareness and motivation, the scientific community can use our platform to make considerable progress in protecting the integrity of our science and encouraging transparency from news outlets. 

In the long term, authentiSci could form a commonly-used interface influencing web users around the world. We foresee a time when scientists and science journalists work more closely together for their mutual benefit, and that of society. Furthermore, our project aims to provide a platform representing the scientific community as a whole to bridge the gap between scientists, media and the public.

We look forward to authentic science news in a factual era of online media.

Group Clifton

The Team Members: Steve Acquah, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA; Ana Alonso-Serrano, Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute), Germany; Nicholas Clifton, School of Medicine, Cardiff University, UK; Jesus Melgarejo, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium; Stephanie Mouchbahani-Constance, McGill University, Canada; Yusuke Naito, Nippon Boehringer-Ingelheim Co., Japan; Zaibaa Patel, King’s College London, UK; Shama Sograte-Idrissi, University of Goettingen, Germany