The ever-increasing amount of disinformation and “fake news” online contributes to confusing the public about the reality and seriousness of climate change. Our project aims to help readers identify and avoid disinformation while gaining confidence in information about climate change that is validated by science.
Climate Feedback organizes a worldwide network of scientists to assess the credibility of influential climate change information. When a climate story is trending on social networks, we typically invite half a dozen scientists with expertise on the subject to collaboratively comment on the articles’ main claims. Scientists also provide an overall rating of the article’s scientific credibility based on its factual accuracy, logic, objectivity, and quality of sources used.
We then publish an analysis with a clearly stated summary to help the public know which news is consistent with science, and we provide feedback to editors so they can improve their coverage.
Climate Feedback started in late 2014 as a grassroots organization of climate scientists who wanted to create a channel where scientists can set the record straight about coverage of their field of expertise. Any scientist with a relevant Ph.D. who is actively publishing academic research in top-tier scientific journals is free to register on our site. So far, about three hundred scientists have volunteered to contribute to Climate Feedback reviews. Today Climate Feedback is the first and only crowdsourced fact-checking project to be among the 46 verified signatories of the International Fact-Checking Network. As such, our reviews are featured in Google search results (thanks to the use of the “claim review” markup), making it easier for those who want to fact-check a story to find our reviews.
Objectives and beneficiaries
The project’s objective is to facilitate scientists' active roles in the ongoing fight for a more credible web and provide incentives for more accurate climate reporting. As domain experts, scientists have deep knowledge about the scientific misinformation they observe, but no effective methods for responding efficiently and effectively.
The reviews we produce help web platforms like Google and Facebook to feature more credible information sources and decrease the reach of disinformation. The direct beneficiaries are i) the public who has access to more credible information and ii) conscientious journalists who inform their readers with accurate information but are increasingly competing for ad-money with producers of click bait and junk information.
Dozens of schools are also relying on our reviews as examples that are discussed in critical thinking and media literacy classes to teach students the logical fallacies and rhetorical tricks used by science deniers.
Strong points of the solution
The most innovative aspect of our fact-checking solution is its community approach. Crowdsourcing analyses and reviews directly from scientists offers better scalability potential than traditional fact-checking approaches that are lead and performed entirely by a few journalists.
Analyses written by topic experts have more credibility and, because we are open to all academics with a Ph.D. and recent top-tier scientific publication, this crowdsourced approach is less susceptible of being biased; the result cannot be predetermined by a single journalist or editor but reflects the consensus, or lack thereof, among topic experts. For these reasons, our analyses are more likely to be used as a trusted reference by web platforms to assess the trustworthiness of information sources.
Expected results and benefits for climate change adaptation and mitigation
The main benefit of this project is a better informed and less confused public thanks to the increased visibility of accurate information online and decreased reach of disinformation.
This project is also beneficial to the journalistic community as it incentivizes more accurate reporting, distinguishes the most trustworthy sources of information and brings more scientists and younger voices into the media conversation. Journalists regularly ask Climate Feedback for introductions to experts for their stories, as it is a challenge to identify actual experts on all topics. The growing community we are bringing together serves as a useful database for journalists to get a quote, to fact-check challenging scientific claims and to ask a question and get a response from contributing scientists.
Scalability potential of the solution
Because of its crowdsourced approach, Climate Feedback offers a high scalability potential. As of today, most operations are performed manually by an editor: selecting articles, inviting reviewers by email, collecting ratings in online forms and posting reviews on the site. To scale-up, we are currently building a web platform that allows scientists to review articles in a decentralized way, which will allow us to dramatically improve the number of articles and claims the community is able to review.
The web application will update a feed of articles on the topic of climate change and rank it by influence, detect the specific topic of each article and send notifications to relevant experts so they can directly comment on and rate articles from the platform.
Once we have successfully tested this approach with the climate science community, we plan to use it to organize communities of experts in other scientific domains that are rife with misinformation.
[Editor's Note: All information published as submitted by the author(s). Minor edits may have been made for length and clarity.]