Towards Healthier Science and Health News Feeds: NewsQ Panel on Science and Health Journalism

Back to 2020 Panel Reports

Written by Caroline Chen, Randi Hutter Epstein, Jennifer Kahn, Katherina Thomas, Rick Weiss, Wudan Yan, and Yemile Bucay

Published: 30 November 2020

From the executive summary: “Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a need to improve the quality of the health and science journalism elevated in online news ranking and recommendation platforms. For years, health misinformation has been rampant on search and social media platforms.1 A majority of Americans are at least somewhat interested in science news — more even than are interested in sports, business, or entertainment news.2 Yet, the public has also not uniformly understood that there is overwhelming scientific consensus on issues like climate change and human impact on the environment and on the efficacy of vaccines. Without an informed citizenry, we can hardly expect informed policy in a democratic state.

As science and medicine have been politicized, perhaps most visibly during the pandemic, when mask non-compliance has been brandished as an essential freedom, the urgency to improve trust in scientific processes and medical knowledge has only increased. By serving as the means through which millions of people get their news, platform news products have a critical role to play, which will require clearer parameters and greater transparency for how science and health news is ranked in feeds. It will also need a substantial investment in human curation by people trained in health and science journalism.

To address the challenge of improving the quality of health and science information that appears in news feeds, the NewsQ Initiative, which seeks to elevate news quality when algorithms rank and recommend news, convened a panel of journalists and media scholars to bring a critical eye to the current ways platform news products are serving science and health news. The aim was to identify specific areas where ranking and recommendation can be improved, and to articulate recommendations for both platforms and publishers.3

We begin the following report by introducing the purpose of high quality science and health journalism, which have service to real audiences at their core. We then remark upon pressing problems we identified in the current news feeds, which at times stray shockingly far from the missions that ought to inform quality science and health news. Lastly, we propose some recommendations to mitigate these problems moving forward.”

Read the report here.