Communicating Scientific Uncertainty in an Age of COVID-19: An Investigation into the Use of Preprints by Digital Media Outlets

Abstract:  In this article, we investigate the surge in use of COVID-19-related preprints by media outlets. Journalists are a main source of reliable public health information during crises and, until recently, journalists have been reluctant to cover preprints because of the associated scientific uncertainty. Yet, uploads of COVID-19 preprints and their uptake by online media have outstripped that of preprints about any other topic. Using an innovative approach combining altmetrics methods with content analysis, we identified a diversity of outlets covering COVID-19-related preprints during the early months of the pandemic, including specialist medical news outlets, traditional news media outlets, and aggregators. We found a ubiquity of hyperlinks as citations and a multiplicity of framing devices for highlighting the scientific uncertainty associated with COVID-19 preprints. These devices were rarely used consistently (e.g., mentioning that the study was a preprint, unreviewed, preliminary, and/or in need of verification). About half of the stories we analyzed contained framing devices emphasizing uncertainty. Outlets in our sample were much less likely to identify the research they mentioned as preprint research, compared to identifying it as simply “research.” This work has significant implications for public health communication within the changing media landscape. While current best practices in public health risk communication promote identifying and promoting trustworthy sources of information, the uptake of preprint research by online media presents new challenges. At the same time, it provides new opportunities for fostering greater awareness of the scientific uncertainty associated with health research findings.

 

We need to talk about preprints: how (not) to deal with the media « KU Leuven blogt

“Online preprint servers such as arXiv and bioRxiv allow researchers to share their findings with the scientific community before peer review. They are also a goldmine for journalists looking for their next big story. Here are some tips to navigate a potential media minefield….”

Preprints in the public eye – ASAPbio

“Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, preprints are being shared, reported on, and used to shape government policy, all at unprecedented rates and journalists are now regularly citing preprints in their pandemic coverage. As well as putting preprints squarely in the public eye as never before, presenting a unique opportunity to educate researchers and the public about their value, the rise in reporting of research posted as preprints has also brought into focus the question of how research is scrutinised and validated. Traditional journal peer review has its shortcomings and the number of ways research can be evaluated is expanding.  This can be a problem for journalists and non-specialist readers who sometimes don’t fully understand the difference between preprints peer-reviewed articles and different forms of peer review. Media coverage can result in the sharing of information which may later not stand up to scientific scrutiny, leading to misunderstanding, misinformation and the risk of damaging the public perception of preprints and the scientific process.

ASAPbio, with support from the Open Society Foundations, aims to consolidate and expand on existing efforts to set best practice standards for reporting research posted as preprints via the launch of our Preprints in the Public Eye project.  Read more in the project announcement.  To get involved, email Project Coordinator Jigisha Patel at jigisha.patel@asapbio.org….”

Preprints in the public eye – ASAPbio

“Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, preprints are being shared, reported on, and used to shape government policy, all at unprecedented rates and journalists are now regularly citing preprints in their pandemic coverage. As well as putting preprints squarely in the public eye as never before, presenting a unique opportunity to educate researchers and the public about their value, the rise in reporting of research posted as preprints has also brought into focus the question of how research is scrutinised and validated. Traditional journal peer review has its shortcomings and the number of ways research can be evaluated is expanding.  This can be a problem for journalists and non-specialist readers who sometimes don’t fully understand the difference between preprints peer-reviewed articles and different forms of peer review. Media coverage can result in the sharing of information which may later not stand up to scientific scrutiny, leading to misunderstanding, misinformation and the risk of damaging the public perception of preprints and the scientific process.

ASAPbio, with support from the Open Society Foundations, aims to consolidate and expand on existing efforts to set best practice standards for reporting research posted as preprints via the launch of our Preprints in the Public Eye project.  Read more in the project announcement.  To get involved, email Project Coordinator Jigisha Patel at jigisha.patel@asapbio.org….”

Paywalls, Newsletters, and the New Echo Chamber | WIRED

If the paywall sites are going to attract more consumers, and provide them safe harbor from the free-news vortex, then Radcliffe says they’ll need to make a better case for why it’s worth the money. That means letting people know the actual cost of producing journalism, and what’s at risk if you don’t financially support it. Otherwise, big publications will only serve a minority of the population, small publications will struggle to survive, and people who have grown accustomed to free news will continue to seek it out, even if it ends up not really being news at all.

Ideas for a Extending Open Review to the Use of Scientific Literature in News Media | Generation Research

“The authors of the following preprint ‘Open Science Saves Lives’ will hold a ‘Ask me anything’ #AMA session on Reddit next week – 08:00 am Eastern Time (GMT-4:00) on the 11th November.

Open pad for asking questions on the topic of extending review to news media to help use of science in news.

The paper raises the question that preprints are misused by the news media. In response to this question this document is to collect questions around the idea of extending open peer review to the use of science in news media in general….”

Humtank Prize 2020 to the Royal Library – Humtank

From Google’s English:  “Society needs humanistic knowledge. The humanities need to reach out to society. Therefore, for the sixth year in a row, the think tank Humtank awards the Humtank Prize to academics or institutions that have made a meritorious contribution to important humanities perspectives in society. This year’s winner is the Royal Library, and this is the motivation:

 

The Royal Library (KB) has, by opening up its entire digitized newspaper archive on the internet during the corona pandemic, paved the way into the future. In a time marked by copyright and commercial tunnel events, KB gave everyone the opportunity to explore almost 400 years of Swedish news reporting and history – regardless of where they are in the country. A temporary copyright agreement meant that the entire archive could only be accessed freely for a few months, but through the initiative, the library has opened a wide window, which no researcher or good citizen wants to see closed anymore. In a far-sighted and meritorious way, KB has thus shown a genuinely digitized future, where history is free and accessible for everyone to explore.”

Approaching Coverage of COVID-19 Through the Lens of Open – OpenCon

“Many publishers have granted access to critical research in response to the crisis, but Lew worries that it is temporary. In her reporting, she is trying to explain the need for open science and open access to readers—many of whom are not aware of the issue. Even her editor, Lew says, was baffled when she explained how commercial publishers make high profits from tax-payer funded that is not open to the public….”

French plan for improving science communication stirs up controversy | Science | AAAS

“France will launch an initiative to bring scientists and journalists closer together and boost public access to reliable information, according to a provision in a 10-year science plan that moved one step closer to parliamentary approval this week. “At a time when French society is crossed by currents of irrationality and doubts about progress and knowledge, the Government has chosen to resolutely reverse the trend,” the science ministry stated in the draft bill preamble. Although many applaud the idea of reducing misinformation through deeper ties between science and the media, some observers are worried about the potential vulnerability of the initiative to political or corporate influence, and its threat to journalistic independence….

On paper, the French initiative would seem to emulate science media centers (SMCs) in the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, and elsewhere….”

Preprints in the Public Eye – ASAPbio

“Today, we’re pleased to announce the launch of a project on the use of preprints in the media with support from the Open Society Foundations. 

Premature media coverage was the top concern about preprints in our recent #biopreprints2020 survey, for both those who had published their research as preprints and for those who had not….

ASAPbio, with support from the Open Society Foundations, now aims to consolidate and expand on existing efforts to set best practice standards for preprints via the launch of our Preprints in the Public Eye project. We are calling for involvement from researchers, journalists, institutions, librarians, funding agencies, and more to work on the following three main aims or the project:

To improve the transparency and clarity of how preprints are labelled so that readers understand what checks have and have not been made on a preprint.
To agree a set of best practice guidelines for researchers and institutions on how to work with journalists on research reported as preprints.
To agree a set of best practice guidelines for journalists on how to assess and report on research posted as preprints….”