Skip to Main Content
Skip Nav Destination

Science has a new fact advocate for media and other public discourse

4 March 2015
SciCheck monitors, researches, and corrects faulty science statements by “major US political players” of any party.

SciCheck, a new branch of, resolves to focus “exclusively on false and misleading scientific claims that are made by partisans to influence public policy.” When asked how it began, Kathleen Hall Jamieson told an anecdote about false science in a Republican’s statement. But SciCheck looks both ways. Of the handful of corrective essays it has released so far, two have gone after Democrats.

Jamieson heads the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, where the project says it “aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics” by monitoring “the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases.”

An article that appeared at Mother Jones and Grist quoted Jamieson’s anecdote. It concerned a now former Republican congresswoman from Minnesota:

“When Michele Bachmann in the last election made an allegation about the effects of . . . a vaccine, in public space on national television . . . the journalists in the real context didn’t know how to respond to the statement as clearly as they ought to,” explains Jamieson. “The time to contextualize is immediately. That should have been shot down immediately.”

So when the Stanton Foundation approached FactCheck to offer funding for a new initiative, the group decided that what it needed to do was hire “real science journalists” with the expertise to refute false claims and to get those corrections “into the bloodstream of journalism more quickly,” says Jamieson. “That’s how it happened. It’s thanks to Michele Bachmann.”

The article quoted Bachmann expanding on her false science:

“I will tell you that I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Fla., after the debate,” she said on the Today show. “She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter. It can have very dangerous side effects.”

At the Huffington Post, all four SciCheck essays that have appeared so far have gone after Republicans:

* “Rand Paul misleads with statements on NIH, fruit flies

* “Rep. Gary Palmer tries to stir up climate change controversy that just doesn’t exist

* “Mo Brooks, Ben Carson share false narrative on measles outbreak

* “Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee still just don’t get it on climate change

But SciCheck watches all sides. Its most recent posting begins by contradicting Gina McCarthy of the Democratic Obama administration: “The head of the Environmental Protection Agency told Congress her agency’s proposed rules governing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants will not affect the reliability of electricity service. That’s debatable.”

Another of the new organization’s fact-asserting commentaries takes on President Obama directly. Under the headline “Obama juices the genome numbers,” it begins, “In announcing his new ‘Precision Medicine Initiative’ on Jan. 30, President Obama repeated an outdated and questionable number for the Human Genome Project’s return on investment, and oversold just how cheap sequencing a single person’s full genetic code has become.”

Like the rest of, SciCheck posts its articles online and makes them available to the media. Except for the Huffington Post articles, a piece at USA Today, and a smattering of other appearances, SciCheck doesn’t seem so far to have excited much media interest—possibly in part because its offerings highlight the FactCheck origins while burying the SciCheck connection in an end note, thereby missing chances to advertise SciCheck’s availability. Reach SciCheck via the contact page.


Steven T. Corneliussen, a media analyst for the American Institute of Physics, monitors three national newspapers, the weeklies Nature and Science, and occasionally other publications. He has published op-eds in the Washington Post and other newspapers, has written for NASA's history program, and is a science writer at a particle-accelerator laboratory.

Close Modal

or Create an Account

Close Modal
Close Modal