The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) has released a new series of primers on spotting and responding to science hype in the media. The three primers cover hype related to topics in new technology, public health and neuroscience. The primers introduce hype about scientific topics in the media, and provide users with ways to spot hype and evaluate scientific claims in media outlets. The primers draw on topics covered in three of the Commission’s reports: New Directions: The Ethics of Synthetic Biology and Emerging Technologies, Ethics and Ebola: Public Health Planning and Response, and Gray Matters: Topics at the Intersection of Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society.
The primers are designed to help members of the public spot and respond to hyped claims in the media, which can often distort, exaggerate or misrepresent scientific information. The primers note that hype is generated from numerous sources, including scientists, communication and public relations professionals, and journalists. Each primer provides users with steps to spot hype as well as respond to hype when they counter such claims in news stories and blog posts. The primers also include examples of hyped claims that were found in news outlets.
The Commission has discussed hype in a number of its reports. In New Directions, the Commission recommended that individuals and deliberative forums should use clear language when communicating scientific information and avoid “sensationalist buzzwords” when describing topics in synthetic biology. The Commission also called for a private organization to fact-check claims that discuss advances in synthetic biology. In Ethics and Ebola, the Commission recommended that governments and public health organizations use the best available scientific evidence to inform decisions about using liberty-restricting measures (e.g., quarantines) and avoid bending to public pressure to inappropriately implement such measures. In Gray Matters, the Commission recommended that neuroscientists, attorneys, judges and members of the media avoid using or engaging with hype in relation to using neuroscience in the courtroom, noting that justice is threatened when unfounded neuroscience is used to make decisions in a courtroom.
This set of primers is the most recent addition to our “Conversation Series” collections of primers. Interested individuals can access our other “Conversation Series,” which discusses discussing incidental findings for consumers, research participants and patients. Users can also find informational primers about incidental findings and consent capacity.
Please stay tuned for information about forthcoming educational materials, including a classroom discussion guide and a deliberative scenario about incidental findings based on the Commission’s report Anticipate and Communicate: Ethical Management of Incidental and Secondary Findings in the Clinical, Research, and Direct-to-Consumer Contexts.
All Bioethics Commission educational materials are free and available for download at www.bioethics.gov/education. The Bioethics Commission encourages feedback on its materials at email@example.com.