Facts & Reasons: a rising platform which fights scientific misinformation
After their mission caught our eye on social media, we took the opportunity to have a conversation with Kamil Wolanin and Ambra Villani, co-founders of Facts & Reasons.
This growing online platform aims to fight scientific misinformation by investigating and explaining the truth behind click-bait “science” articles in mass media.
Kamil and Ambra met in the inspiring academic environment of Heidelberg in Germany where they became a couple – and they’ve been living and working together ever since! Kamil is the creator and main writer, while Ambra works on promotion of the website – managing social media and creating multimedia content such as video summaries.
We spoke to them about how Facts & Reasons started, their mission, why the project is so important, what they hope the future holds for the platform, and more.
Thanks for speaking with us Kamil and Ambra! Firstly, what inspired you to start Facts & Reasons?
The idea behind F&R had been brewing in Kamil’s head for a very long time. He’s always wanted the public to have access to scientific publications, or at least have access to new discoveries without the hyperbole often added by social and mass media.
We often discussed working on such a project, but time had never been on our side. We were preoccupied with work in the lab, academic travels, preparing our PhD theses and scientific publications, moving and changing countries, and so on. Not to mention an international wedding along the way – we simply didn’t have enough time to start it.
It was the COVID-19 pandemic that changed the situation. We were finally established in a new city and, suddenly, had more time available. We thought it was the perfect time to start a small side project, aimed at fighting scientific misinformation. The decision was also highly motivated by the increasing amount of fake news about the pandemic.
Who currently works on the Facts & Reasons team?
It was a great surprise to see how many people supported us in this project and were interested in joining our team! We quickly grew from just a dream to a project involving several people. The first addition to our team was Jacek Jabłoński, an English teacher for non-native speakers and a close friend of ours. We shared our ideas, and he gave us a lot of feedback on our articles and our PR. It became clear Jacek would be a great addition to the team and, since then, he’s been our editor and translator to Polish. He’s also become one of our authors.
To get more feedback and promote the project, we reached out to friends and colleagues – most showed interest and support, and some wanted to join the team! This is how we welcomed Max Brambach, Diana Bordalo and Charlotte Phillips on board, in that order. They are all scientists, ranging from biology to physics, and all care passionately about scientific communication. Max and Charlotte are authors, while Diana is our website designer and Portuguese translator.
We have decided to stick to a small core team, but are open to expanding in other ways. We want to recruit more authors, as well as more people translating articles to different languages. At the moment, Facts & Reasons is available in English, Polish, Italian and Portuguese.
For this reason we’ve opened a new category in our team: Contributing Authors. These are scientists who write articles for Facts & Reasons, getting full recognition, but aren’t subject to a publishing schedule. That means when they have a topic they care about, they inform us and draft an article that we’ll review and publish. This way, we can achieve a broader authorship and, at the same time, authors don’t feel any pressure to contribute regularly.
We have loved seeing the enthusiasm from people, how much they want to help, and how many people genuinely care about spreading accurate information and education.
What has been your biggest challenge with the project so far?
The most challenging aspect of running Facts & Reasons is that, as a passion project which we don’t make money from, it can be quite difficult to find the time to work on it. We're currently working on it at weekends and in the evenings, which can be tiring! What’s more, everyone on the team is a volunteer, and everyone has a regular job, which makes it difficult for us to push for the results we’d love to get.
What is the most satisfying part of working on Facts & Reasons?
One of the most satisfying things is watching the number of views of our articles increasing, as well as social media follows and likes. Receiving comments about how useful the articles are is also very motivating. One person even told us that one of our articles stopped a family feud by providing exactly the information they were looking for!
What motivates us most is that we enable scientists and educators like us to have a direct impact on readers and contribute to a growing interest in and demand for scientifically validated facts.
How do you choose the topics for your articles?
Originally, our ideas came from the constant flow of news about new cures for cancer, malaria vaccines, etc. Every time we saw a misinterpretation of a scientific publication, we wanted to stop the spread of falsehoods, or even better, explain what the publications had actually discovered. To do this, we make sure we stay up to date with news headlines, as well as viral posts on social media.
Our writing process is based on intensive research which is why our articles are published every two weeks: we allow time for proper study of the subject and for the whole team to review the findings. Our very first article aimed to explain the possible origins of the Sars-Cov-2 virus and was strongly motivated by the growing prejudice toward Asian communities and the effect of conspiracy theories on society. As often happens in science though, a satisfactory answer wasn’t available. However, in cases like this, we at least hope to raise awareness and provide tools for the public to interpret scientific news and discoveries for themselves.
Other articles from Facts & Reasons have been motivated by the exponential growth of anti-scientific posts in social media – such as anti-vaccination movements. For example, when a clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine showed a side effect, it triggered a highly negative response on the internet – even though this is exactly what clinical trials are for! Social media posts are usually behind misleading news, but private companies often play a part too.
Another example of this can be found in our article about tobacco intake and SARS-CoV-2. Many people might have read online articles and thought their smoking habits might actually help them defend against COVID-19. We thought it was important to explain that the results were not conclusive.
What do you hope the future looks like for Facts & Reasons?
We hope we will manage to keep the platform going with our periodic publications. Ideally, we would love to publish more often than we do – maybe go back to publishing once per week, as we did during the first wave of the pandemic. We would also like to gain the support of a bigger institution, such as a research institute or a university.
We’ve also now started a subpage for featured websites. Here, we list and group websites which do work similar to ours and stand for proper science communication. We would love to transform Facts & Reasons into a platform that the public – as well as scientists – can engage with.
How can other scientists get involved?
If you would like to feature on our site, or feature us, please get in touch! We are also open to collaborations with other projects – we don’t have anything specific in mind yet, but if you have any ideas please contact us.
We hope to be able to expand the list of languages we translate to, because it would allow more people to access our content. If you’re interested in contributing to Facts & Reasons by translating our content to another language, we’d love to hear from you.
We would also like to expand our list of contributing authors, so please reach out if you would be interested in writing for us, with no deadlines or pressure.
Lots of thanks to Hello Bio for giving us the opportunity to talk about what we do! We hope our website will be of interest and that it will lead to collaborations with more people.
If you're interested in finding out more about Kamil and Ambra’s work, here’s how:
- Visit the Facts & Reasons website: www.factsandreasons.com
- Follow them on Twitter: @facts_reasons
- Follow them on Instagram: @factsandreasons
- Like the Facts & Reasons Facebook Page
- Connect with them on LinkedIn
- Subscribe on YouTube
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