Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
I recently stumbled across a website called ScienceCentric.com. It’s slick and professional-looking. If I were a high school student writing an essay I could be forgiven for thinking I had arrived at an authoritative and trustworthy source of information.
ScienceCentric.com claims to provide:
Breaking news about the latest scientific discoveries in the fields of physics, chemistry, geology and palaeontology, biology, environment, astronomy, health, and technology
Apparently published in Bulgaria, it lists three editors and a photographer on its staff. A careful read of its About Us page, though, supplies an important clue as to what this website is really all about:
For academies and institutes, we provide free publishing of media releases. [bold added]
The “article” that first rang my alarm bells is dated July 2007. It begins with:
The world’s top experts have just confirmed that Arctic warming is continuing its ravages of polar bear populations. [bold added]
In the very next sentence, however, it becomes clear that these supposed top experts are actually affiliated with an activist group, the International Union of the Conservation of Nature – which was founded in 1948 “as the world’s first global environmental organization.”
Even worse, the third, fourth, and fifth sentence in the ScienceCentric “article” are all quotes from a World Wildlife Fund spokesperson. At the very bottom of the article, this line appears:
Clicking that link reveals that ScienceCentric.com has been representing World Wildlife Fund blog postings and press releases as bona fide science news stories since June 2007.
Here’s a post from the WWF’s global website dated two days ago titled: Toxic pollution form Australia floods threatens marine life. Now here’s the same text, with the exact same title, presented by the ScienceCentric website as if it were genuine scientific news.
A month ago the WWF issued a press release from the Cancun climate summit. Thirteen of its 16 paragraphs are a no-holds barred WWF political statement attributed to Gordon Shepherd, the head of WWF’s Global Climate Initiative. That entire press release is now displayed as science news on a website that claims to be about scientific discoveries in physics, chemistry, geology, and biology.
In a similar instance, from November 2010, a document outlines WWF’s political position prior to Cancun:
How many instances of WWF-generated content are there on ScienceCentric’s website? We’re actually given that number at the bottom of this page: 467. Ten entries are listed per page and there are 47 pages in total. Indeed, it appears likely the count will top 500 before summer arrives.
Attention scientists and science organizations: If you care about the integrity of your profession, if you care about the reputation of science itself, you cannot remain silent. Websites such as ScienceCentric are telling the world that press releases from pressure groups are an example of legitimate science news. You need to declare loudly that this is not the case.