Scientists Say

Describe your idea:

An lot of “science” news stories in the mainstream media are bunk. Sometimes they are completely made up. This problem is particularly bad in the fields of medicine and nutrition. I refer you to Ben Goldacre’s “Bad Science” for numerous examples.

I propose a community site which provides:

1. A way to collaboratively annotate these stores, e.g. with original data and references.

2. A way to check stories easily. For example, a browser button that finds the annotations of a story.

3. A way to publicly correspond with the editor, ombudsperson, and if necessary file a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission if the story is discovered to be false.

What problem does it solve?:

1. It allows people reading “news” purporting to be science to check the facts.

2. With sufficient feedback to the media, it could improve the quality of science reporting.

3. It would undermine media charlatans posing as scientists and “nutritionists” and spreading lies in order to sell their branded snake-oil.

4. It would improve the public understanding and trust in science and rational thought. The long term benefits of this should be obvious to anyone.

Type of idea: A brand new project


  1. The collaborative annotation of new stories could be similar to the annotation of Parliamentary debates in TheyWorkForYou.

    The public correspondence with the newspaper and Press Complaints Commission could be similar to correspondence with public authorities in WhatDoTheyKnow.

    The point of leverage is the the Press Complaints Commission, whose Code of Practice says:

    1. Accuracy

    i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

    ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.

    iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

    iv) A publication must report fairly and accurately the outcome of an action for defamation to which it has been a party, unless an agreed settlement states otherwise, or an agreed statement is published.

    2. Opportunity to reply

    A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for.

    The PCC say they accept complaints by e-mail, so the key step would be persuading them to take the site seriously. Is there someone corresponding to the Information Commissioner who can be persuaded to back up MySociety and the public?

  2. Adam Bernard from Cambridge has an interesting site working on linking press stories to the scientific articles behind them: The Science Behind It.

    [broken link removed July 2013]

    I think a system such as the one Adam is working may be a prerequisite for the proposed site.