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Fake News! Why the voices of science must rise

The fake news era has made it absolutely critical for academics, researchers and scientists to escape the ivory tower and engage with audiences outside traditional peer-to-peer communities.

The ubiquity of the Internet, social media and other digital developments have greatly facilitated access to information across the continent, providing much-needed information and data for African citizens. However, it’s also evident that individuals and organisations are exploiting technological innovations by disseminating ‘fake news’, or journalism that consists of deliberate misinformation. Organisations such as Africa Check, the continent’s first independent fact-checking organisation, deserve praise for their efforts to combat the disastrous effects of fake news. In fact, Africa Check has published a useful guide on how to recognise fake news, which is available here. 

Context Matters…

Quite apart from the issue of ‘fake news’, the rise of digital technology has resulted in information overload. The sheer quantity of good and bad information available online and in traditional media means that there is an even greater need for contextualised content and evidence-based commentary on the issues of the day. In fact, this is the daily work and domain of the science community and scientists through the research they undertake. Yet, the results of their research, critical thinking and analysis remain locked in journals and university corridors.

This must be articulated well, captured and circulated widely so scientists’ and researchers’ knowledge and insights can be used to innovate, to make decisions, and to inform policy. And, at a very basic level, their insights can also guide conversations and facilitate a better quality of public discourse.

The Conversation Africa is a non-governmental organisation working to amplify the voices of African scientists, and  publish academic research for a wider audience across the continent. While The Conversation Africa was not established to fight fake news, per se, this is actually an extension of the work we do. Our news and analysis website allows academics and scientists to write about their research, as well as offer informed, evidence-based commentary on issues facing the continent. Scientists also benefit from a collaborative editing process with a team of seasoned journalists that ensures content is easily understandable and relevant. It also guarantees that academics retain control of the final output.

Since our launch in May 2015, we have seen first hand the willingness of academics and researchers to escape the proverbial ivory tower and contribute analytical pieces across all disciplines and issues. What’s more, these articles have received tremendous levels of engagement, reaching a cumulative readership of over 25-million to date. Published under creative commons license, all articles are freely available for the public to read, and other media publications are encouraged to republish them. As a result, many of our author partners are often invited to participate in interviews on radio and TV, as well as speak at conferences, policy tables, and to author or co-author articles and books. We love the fact that ‘The Conversation’ is helping to foster broader conversations!

As confusing as this fake news, post-truth and pseudo-science era can be, these are also exciting times for science. New truths are emerging from our interrogation of ‘old’ theories. Equally, we are also witnessing the emergence of new disciplines, and new, diverse voices in science, as indigenous knowledge systems are gaining greater recognition in the global knowledge economy.

Call-to-action…

This article is a call-to-action to researchers and scientists doing groundbreaking research to join the conversation and play a part in debunking pseudo-science and fighting the onslaught of fake news. It’s an opportunity to make a change by contributing thought-leadership pieces that address the many challenges facing Africa and the world.

Pfungwa M. Nyamukachi

The Conversation Africa, Strategic Partnerships & Stakeholder Relations

pfungwa.nyamukachi@theconversation.com   / Cell: +27825565181 www.theconversation.com/africa

About The Conversation Africa

The Conversation Africa is an independent source of news, commentary and analysis, sourced from the academic and research community and delivered directly to the public. Our team of professional editors work with university and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for the wider public.

Working together, academics and journalists produce articles published daily, related to the news agenda as well as university research output. The site covers the arts, culture, politics, society, business, the economy, health, medicine, energy, the environment, education as well as science and technology. Independent, high quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism is a vital part of the media landscape, and our aim is to allow for better understanding of current affairs and complex issues and a better quality of public discourse and debate.

How to contribute to ‘The Conversation Africa’

To write for The Conversation Africa (TC-Africa), authors must be affiliated with a university or approved research institution and have either a PhD or be a recognized expert teaching in the subject on which they are writing. PhD candidates far advanced in their study can also contribute if they have done research and are in the process of writing their research:. See here for more information.

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