When science meets politics

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    David Levitan

    David Levitan

    A new watchdog organization hopes to help to keep science facts in check.

    Scientific and medical issues can turn into political footballs, think global warming, fracking, and recently vaccines, but watch out politicians—there’s a new sheriff in town!

    SciCheck is a new branch of the website factcheck.org—a nonpartisan watchdog organization that examines politicians’ claims for accuracy. The site is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

    SciCheck will do the same for statements related to science and medicine.

    Long-time science journalist David Levitan heads this new effort. He said that checking politicians’ claims involves a lot of research.

    “I talk to experts, read literature from reputable sources such as peer reviewed journals, and then confirm again with experts in the field.”

    He expects the “usual suspects” to be big topics as the country gears up for the 2016 elections. “Climate change is high on the list, and there is obviously disagreement in political circles about it,” said Levitan. “Some others are energy related topics, fracking for natural gas, and public health questions like vaccines.”

    Levitan said an early example of his fact checking work for the new site was delving into a statement made by President Obama about precision medicine, a new program designed to spur new treatments for cancer and other diseases.

    “The President cited numbers about the human genome project and its benefit to society in terms of economic development, and there was a study on that, but the numbers in that study had been lowered,” said Levitan. “It’s really hard to establish the real economic impact of a program like the human genome project, and we tried to establish what was the more useful number.”

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