Ministers should still weigh the importance of scientific evidence but “where they do not follow the results they must ensure that they do not dismiss or discredit legitimate scientific evidence”, a report of the British Commons’ Science and Technology Committee said. It called for a “robust redress mechanism” – possibly including fines – in cases where science is misreported by the media.
In an age of claim and counter-claim about ‘fake news’, spin and misinformation about science risked causing real harm, warned Stephen Metcalfe MP, who chairs the committee.
“Robust consideration of scientific evidence is crucial to policy making and really affects our daily lives and we have seen over many years through the debates around BSE [‘mad cow disease’], climate change, [vaccine] MMR and new medical treatments,” he said.
“However too often the clever practice of communications overshadows the true advice of experts, and the public are left bewildered, and not knowing who to believe.
“This affects Government policy too, Ministers and decision makers must take greater care to set out exactly how scientific evidence is being considered, and ensure they cannot be accused of discrediting or skewing the evidence for financial reasons or to suit political aims.
“Reporting scientific and particularly health issues accurately is also a big responsibility for media organisations if they are to retain public trust, and we need to give the public greater reassurances that they are being properly informed and engaged.”
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