Contemporary and Emerging Issues Symposium II
The symposium focused on “Science Communication and a Skeptical Society: From Research to Social Media”. The introduction began by addressing the large scope of sharing information particularly with the advent of social media. There are many gaps in information that science has the potential to correct to alleviate biased and sensationalized messages from the media and research that can create bias.
Nick Fox, Ph. D began the symposium with a presentation entitled “Open Science: Improving Access and Reducing Bias in Science”. According to him, norms in science include sharing, universalism, organized skepticism to consider new evidence, and emphasis on quality of work. Some cournternorms include secrecy, particularism, self-interest and treating science as competition, organized dogmatism by promoting one’s own work, and emphasis on the quantity of work. According to Fox, most scientists feel that their peers subscribe to these counternorms but do not feel like they do. However, the current research culture is dysfunctional. The desire for novel, positive, and tidy results leads to selective reporting, questionable research practices, lack of transparency, results that are difficult to replicate, and fewer self-corrective processes. These consequences have led to a lack of credible research and have overall slowed the progress of scientific advancement. Several other factors further add complexity to publications in scientific research including bias, type of analysis, and publication bias towards significant results. Fox is part of the Center for Open Science which has a mission to improve openness, integrity, and reproducibility of scientific research while providing technology to enable change, policy to incentivize change, and research to create evidence to encourage it. The Open Science framework allows easy sharing of data and materials and organized sharing and collaboration, built in virtual control. The number of uses has grown exponentially and it receives many visitors that upload and download files. One of the concepts that it focuses on is preregistration which provides a method to make exploratory research more discoverable even without publication. Preregistration prevents data from being allowed to influence analysis. Open Science badges were implemented to make behaviors visible to promote their adoption. Badges for journal articles include open data badges showing that the author made the data underlying reported results available, open materials badges demonstrating that authors made research materials available, and pre-registration badges. Articles reporting all available data after the introduction of the open data badge have increased leading to increased transparency. An additional policy created to enhance journal practices was the TOP factor which outlines eight policy statements to increase the transparency and reproducibility of journals. Top factor ratings increase public awareness of journal policies regarding open science behaviors. Registered reports are another tool that involve peer reviews that happen after the design process instead of submission. A conditional acceptance is then given for publication making the results better for findings. There were fewer positive findings with registered reports compared with standard reports as they were more likely to discover incorrect hypotheses. However, the registered reports remained well-cited and impactful. Overall, the scientific process should be realigned with norms. This leads to higher quality of research, results, and analysis and overall is better for scientific advancement.
Dr. Manoj Lalu spoke next about “Past and Future Changes in Scientific Publishing”. Scientific journals remain the primary manner in which research findings can be presented. Dr. Lalu is a member of the Centre for Journalology and is interested in including the concept of open science in research. According to him, many journals are obtained through traditional subscription based publishers. Often nowadays, journals are delivered through e-licensing agreements where typically a university or business subscribes to a bundle of journals. The limitation is that pricing is not transparent and is negotiable. However, recently, there has been a rise of open access publishing. This involves a processing charge paid by the author so that anyone can access the work. This allows for an expansion of accessibility to scientific literature. There are different types of open access including gold open which is open to all people, hybrid open access, delayed open access, and green open access which allows for self-archiving of articles. However, this has also led to the growth of predatory journals that accept money for publishing without providing peer review. These journals typically do not archive articles, conduct with rigor, or provide ethical checks. In comparing predatory journals and legitimate journals, several distinctions can be made. Predatory journals prioritize self-interest over scholarship. Contain false or misleading information, deviate from best editorial practices, and use aggressive solicitation policies unlike legitimate journals. The amount of articles in predatory journals has increased greatly over the past few years. Research conducted using a random sample of articles published in predatory journals to determine quality showed that surprisingly, 39% of the authors were from high income countries, several prestigious universities were published, and some were academically funded/government funded. This is a waste of money, lives, and knowledge. Dr. Lalu and his colleagues compiled several key determinants between predatory journals and open access journals. Some include spelling and grammar issues, fake impact factor, promise of rapid publication, and targeting authors rather than readers in predatory journals. Overall, it is important to recognize the signs that a journal is predatory and Dr. Lalu hopes to soon have a journal authenticator available for public use.
Dr. Meghan Wulster-Radcliffe, the chief executive officer of ASAS, continued with a presentation entitled “Science Societies: Their Role in Communicating Science”. According to her, the mission of ASAS is to “foster discovery, sharing and application of scientific knowledge”. This is a mission that is shared with the majority of scientific societies. As a science society, it is the goal of ASAS to promote the conduction of the best possible research, provide a peer review system for that research, and use the collective voice of the society to spread information about the research. ASAS began in 1908 and like many other scientific societies, it started a journal soon after. For the next one hundred years, it had the goal of educating the current and future group of members, but not to communicate outside of those groups. One hundred years after the founding, the realization came that information had to be disseminated publicly for others to understand especially with the rise of the internet. ASAS needed to make information understandable, transparent, and available to the public. Beyond the Journal of Animal Science, several more journals were created for the purpose of public access. Translational Animal Science is a gold open access journal and Animal Frontiers is also open access and has a review format for the understanding of the public. Additionally, ASAS utilized tools such as image galleries, taking stock articles, and infographics on social media so research could be understood by the general population. According to Dr. Wulster-Radcliffe, they began to embrace putting content on social media and ensuring that research and data gets to people in any form. She also spoke about the importance of scientific storytelling that allows science to be more human so the general public can relate and comprehend. Drivers of change in scientific society roles today include the COVID-19 pandemic and open access. Implementation of open access journals started in the early 1990s, but due to financial constraints, many science societies are slow to adapt. However, despite costs, the benefits of open access including increased visibility and global reach outweigh the downfalls. Still, most societies are driven by publication cost for revenue and are slower to implement open access. To make up for financial loss, rejection rate at some journals has decreased resulting in lower quality research. However some solutions are arising that will likely make it possible within the next decade. Pre-print servers are also another tool in publishing but the quality of the reviewers is not ensured so it is unclear how this will fit in the novel scheme of publication in upcoming years. Overall, science societies can encourage communication in science through education and funding and train scientists to communicate so their voices can be heard by the scientific community and the general public.
Dr. Camille Ryan followed with a presentation entitled “Disinformation and Scientific Integrity: The Bad Stuff Is Easier to Believe”. Disinformation has the ability to attract many people with sensationalism while undermining science for monetary gain. Disinformation can often prohibit valid science or important new technologies and products from reaching the public. It has also been used to criticize science and affect public opinion of its accuracy. This has led to policies developed on scientific distortion rather than evidence. Social media allows for connections, but has also become a vehicle for sharing misinformation. It is important for experts to understand this space so they can mitigate it. Misinformation comes from an honest mistake or negligence while disinformation is carefully planned deceit and intended to be misleading. The two can interact as misinformation can further amplify disinformation and misinformation can be weaponized into disinformation. It is not always clear where the boundaries are between true and false and it is difficult to understand because many factors have a role. As of 2021, there are more social media users in the world than are not. Social media is where valid and invalid science is shared and talked about. However, humans are prone to biases and often seek information that confirms them. Information is often accepted by the public without further research. To understand the historical landscape of disinformation in agriculture. Dr. Ryan utilized a dataset to explore the methods by which disinformation is spread through data analysis. Dr. Ryan and her team were interested in what caused the spread, the quantifiers of the response to it, and how key events could influence engagement regarding particular topics.The case of GMOs was used to explore disinformation over time. Dr Ryan and her colleagues gathered online articles from 2009-2019 and saw how the data followed a narrative arc and storyline in the media. For example, the sharing of articles was increased immediately after a form of activism regarding GMOs. Disinformation attracts attention and often problematizes science as conversations have become more complex and convoluted as demonstrated in the response to the Anti-vaccine movement particularly on social media. Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rBST) is another example of distorted information causing distrust in agricultural science. After the approval of the product, headlines took over and there were political, social, and ethical concerns even though there was no difference in the milk quality produced by cows that used it and those that did not. It was one of the most intense public debates about emerging technology that was misunderstood broadly by society, and reflected by the anti-GMO movement. Overall, it is easier to believe the “bad stuff”. Issues will come and go but disinformation continues putting scientific integrity at risk.
Toban Dyck continued the symposium with a presentation entitled “Media: Recognition and Reporting Quality of Scientific Information”. Toban grew up on a farm in a small town, moved to a more urban area to work in a newsroom, and eventually moved back to the farm. According to him, he has an urban and rural perspective which is novel in the media. He discussed that treating the media as a singular concept is not helpful as workers are diverse and agendas are their own. In his view, news organizations are hungry for perspective, but editorial direction is often limited by staff capacity. Historically people in the agricultural industry have not felt the need to communicate and defend their role in society but this is changing. It is difficult to get the public’s trust. There is a definite need for more people to tell their stories for the general public to understand. While nearly every media outlet seeks content, and wants research extension and perspectives of experts, it is not an easy thing to do. Research has to be written with the public in mind to enhance understanding. Media outlets influencing public discourse can do a better job at ensuring this. However, scientists are also the solution. There are many opportunities for research extension. Effective communication and balanced reporting is not easy so there is a need for people in the agricultural field to become better communicators and tell their stories. To achieve this, scientists can contact reporters to offer perspective and practice sharing information. The better the communication is, the more success there will be in combating ignorance.
Dr. Frank M. Mitloehner concluded with a talk entitled “Rethinking Methane - Animal Agriculture's Path to Climate Neutrality”. In his view, since greenhouse gases have not been looked at entirely correctly, animal agriculture has often taken a large amount of blame for climate change. Methane is a climate pollutant that needs to be rethought. Greenhouse gases are necessary to sustain life as they create a blanket over the atmosphere which traps heat from the sun, however, there are too many greenhouse gases which have resulted in climate change. In comparing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. It is common to use GWP100 as the metrics to compare them. However, in utilizing this comparison, key information about methane is left out. Methane warms the atmosphere differently than other gases due to a shorter half-life compared with carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. It is not just produced but also destroyed so the net amount of methane in the atmosphere is actually lower than many consider it to be. Methane molecules remain in the atmosphere for ten years and then are converted into radicals through hydroxyl oxidation. This atmospheric removal process destroys methane at almost the same rate that it is produced. However, this is not considered in the current regulatory framework. The biogenic carbon cycle involves a carbon in methane that originates from carbon dioxide that is utilized in plants. Therefore, livestock are not adding additional carbon to the atmosphere nor do they add additional warming to the planet. The main greenhouse gases are from the burning fossil fuels that add more carbon to the atmosphere. There is no cycle for fossil carbon unlike biogenic carbon. Instead of GWP100-, GWP* is a new way to characterize short-lived greenhouse gases and their impact on temperature. Stock gases accumulate over time because they stay in the environment. Methane in livestock is treated the same way, but methane is a flow gas, not a stock gas. Flow gases stay stagnant as they are destroyed at the same rate of emission. In fact methane can be reduced in order to induce negative warming. In California, farmers have been incentivized to reduce methane emissions by 40% and there has already been a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. If methane is reduced enough, climate cooling can be generated to pull carbon out of the atmosphere and counteract warming effects of other greenhouse gases. Additionally, the U.S. agricultural industry has been successful in creating more efficient animals where fewer animals are needed for the same amount of production, also helping to combat climate change. Overall, methane from livestock is not the number one environmental concern, but methane reduction can cool the climate.