- News & Events
- News archive
- Fall 2022
- Eight SFU innovators bestowed with Canada’s highest academic honour
- SIAT Convocation Features October 2022
- Graduating Student Sharlyn Monillas Tells Us About Her Time in CMNS
- Centre for Digital Media partners with Ethọ́s Lab to improve Black representation in digital media
- Explore the Surrey Community Open House SIAT Project Demos
- new interdisciplinary technology aid wilderness search and rescue
- Building better democracies through journalism
- Summer 2022
- FCAT June 2022 Convocation: Looking back
- Meet Contemporary Arts alum Krystle Silverfox
- SFU researchers receive over $6 million to tackle online disinformation, foster data fluencies
- SIAT researchers develop and curate exhibition at Galiano Island’s Yellowhouse Art Centre
- Roll out the red carpet: Surrey students showcase filmmaking talent
- Spring 2022
- FACTS AND FALSEHOODS IN THE TIME OF COVID-19
- Celebrating Black History Month across the Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology
- SFU professor shares experience living and teaching in war-torn Ukraine
- SFU artists and researchers showcase art installation on Surrey’s ‘UrbanScreen’
- Leadership and Agile Production Management micro-credential established in partnership with DigiBC
- Leading with heart: Meet Staff Achievement Award winner Corbin Saleken
- HOW GOOGLE’S SEARCH ENGINE SUPPORTS CONSPIRACY THEORISTS AND HATE FIGURES
- SFU staffer’s commitment to local arts community nets staff achievement award
- Fall 2021
- Summer 2021
- Spring 2021
- Fall 2020
- Summer 2020
- Spring 2020
- Fall 2019
- Summer 2019
- Spring 2019
- Fall 2018
- Summer 2018
- Spring 2018
- Fall 2017
- Spring 2017
- Fall 2016
- Summer 2016
- Spring 2016
- Fall 2015
- Summer 2015
- Spring 2015
- Fall 2014
- Summer 2014
- Spring 2014
- Fall 2013
- Fall 2022
- News archive
- 2023 FCAT Undergraduate Conference
- 2022 FCAT Undergraduate Conference
- 2021 FCAT Undergraduate Conference
- Cancelled: 2020 FCAT Undergraduate Conference
- 2019 FCAT Undergraduate Conference
- 2018 FCAT Undergraduate Conference
- 2017 FCAT Undergraduate Conference
- 2016 FCAT Undergraduate Conference
- 2015 FCAT Undergraduate Conference
- 2014 FCAT Undergraduate Conference
- 2013 FCAT Undergraduate Conference
- FCAT Research and Teaching Forum
- 2023 FCAT Undergraduate Conference
- Featured Student
- Featured alumnus
- Future students
- Current students
- Get involved
- FCAT After School Podcast
- Season One
- Episode 0: Welcome to After School
- Episode 1: Finding Your Creative Potential with Prem Gill
- Episode 2: Inclusivity in the Performance Arts with Aryo Khakpour
- Episode 3: Connecting Design and Technology with Sofia Bautista
- Episode 4: Storytelling in Game Design with Mars Balisacan
- Episode 5: Challenging the Status Quo through Art with Shion Skye Carter & Stefan Nazarevich
- Episode 6: Starting Your Own Publishing Company with Jesse Finkelstein
- Episode 7: Finding Happiness in Your Work with Nick Doering
- Episode 8: Making a Name in Independent Filmmaking with Gloria Mercer
- Episode 9: It All Starts with a Strategy with Adam Brayford
- Episode 10: Shifting Places, Shifting Minds with Milton Lim
- Episode 11: Being the Big Piece in a Small Pie with Jordan Yep
- Episode 12: Reimagining Dance Training with Tin Gamboa
- Episode 13: Sara Milosavic
- Season Two
- Episode Transcripts
- Season One
- Support FCAT
- Dean's External Advisory Board
- Work at FCAT
- FCAT Excellence Awards
- FCAT Connects
- FCAT research funding lifecycle
- FCAT Funding Opportunities
- Institutes, labs and projects
- Quick links and resources
- FCAT Research Newsletter Archive
- Return to campus
School of Communication, Health & Sciences, Media & Politics
FACTS AND FALSEHOODS IN THE TIME OF COVID-19
Throughout the pandemic, quick access to scientific findings has been essential to keeping the public informed. The use of preprints—scientific manuscripts posted on open access sources like bioRxiv and medRxiv prior to peer review—was quickly adopted by media outlets. SFU researchers caution that while access to research is imperative, publishing unverified science comes with risks.
Juan Pablo Alperin is an associate professor in the Publishing Program, the Associate Director of Research for the Public Knowledge Project, and co-director of the Scholarly Communications Lab. Alice Fleerackers is a PhD student in the Scholarly Communications Lab, where she studies how uncertain health science is communicated and shared online. Their article, Communicating Scientific Uncertainty in an Age of COVID-19: An Investigation into the Use of Preprints by Digital Media Outlets was one of the top-cited academic papers from SFU in 2021.
Fleerackers led the investigation into media outlets’ use of preprints in the first few months of the pandemic. Sharing the quick and collective discoveries of the scientific community with the public has helped save lives. However, the use of research preprints also meant unproven ideas about COVID-19 were quickly shared as well. In addition, of over 450 media articles studied, including those from prominent sources such as the New York Times, only about half mentioned the research was unverified.
We talked with Alperin and Fleerackers about their peer-reviewed paper.
Can you talk about the role of preprints in sharing information?
While our study examined how journalists used preprints in their work, we should remember that the primary users of preprints are scholars themselves. Preprints offer us an organized way of sharing our work quickly and, by doing so, getting our ideas and findings to circulate more broadly. They build on the growing trend to share research openly, giving a greater number of people—researchers and non-researchers alike—an opportunity to read and make use of the work.
Journalists have often been discouraged from reporting on preprints, but the urgency of COVID-19 seems to have changed things. With little peer reviewed evidence available about the new virus, media outlets turned to preprints for information. In our own research, we saw preprints about COVID-19 covered by all types of media outlets during the early months of the pandemic: from news aggregators and web portals, like Yahoo! News or MSN, to high profile outlets, like the Guardian or the New York Times.
On the one hand, this broad coverage of preprints may have been helpful, even lifesaving, as it allowed for rapid communication of evidence about COVID-19 prevention, diagnosis and treatment. On the other, coverage of some flawed preprints may have added to the mounting misinformation and confusion of the “infodemic.”
Now that we are three years into the pandemic, are media outlets better able to scrutinize information? How should media outlets approach unreviewed research?
When we first started working on this study back in spring of 2020, it felt like almost no one was talking about preprints in journalism. Since then, we have seen a flurry of webinars, news stories, tip sheets and other resources launched to help journalists cover these unreviewed studies effectively. While we cannot say for sure what the impact of these efforts has been, it has been exciting to see academics, preprint servers and journalists coming together to tackle this communication challenge.
The question of how journalists should cover preprints is complex, but we can offer a few guiding principles that might be helpful.
- First, think critically about the implications of sharing the research before deciding whether to cover it. Do the potential benefits for the public outweigh the potential risks? If not, it might be worth holding off until the work has been peer reviewed.
- Second, seek outside opinion on the research you are covering. This is a standard best practice of science journalism, but arguably even more important when reporting on preprints (particularly those about COVID-19).
- Third, be clear about the unreviewed nature of the study, as well as about any limitations or caveats you identify. Emphasize that the findings could change, and contextualize them within the larger body of evidence so that your audience has an understanding of the bigger picture.
- Finally, remember that all science—peer reviewed or not—is provisional. Remind your readers that the integrity of research lies not in the rigor of any individual study but in the self-correcting mechanism of science itself.
Uncertainty and misinformation about COVID-19 is circulating, and sometimes even authoritative voices make mistakes. How can science communicators do a better job at sharing timely and true information?
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is the importance of being critical and reflexive in science communication. Check facts, question evidence, investigate claims—no matter their source. As award-winning journalist Deborah Blum aptly puts it, the true value of science journalism lies not in its ability to “cheerlead” science but to contextualize it: "to portray research accurately in both its rights and its wrongs and stand unflinchingly for the integrity of the story."