Correcting Misinformation About Me and My Work at Science 2.0

Update 4/24/18 – Looks like the misinformation about me at Science 2.0 was deleted. Included an updated screenshot below. No one from Science 2.0 or ACSH reached out to let me know that it had been corrected or to offer any explanation as to how this happened. Alex Berezow, a senior fellow at ACSH has some less-than-helpful responses to me on this, though. I hope this exercise is useful to others who may find themselves in similar situations in the future.

I was surprised to see a Google Alert land in my inbox on Saturday letting me know that I got some coverage in Science 2.0, a site founded by Hank Campbell, the president of the American Council on Science and Health, a group that pushes back against criticisms of private-sector science and science policy. Unfortunately, the coverage involves an anonymous “news staff” writer making up a conspiracy theory about me.

The post is about disputes over neonicotinoid pesticides. The writer states that Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists:

…have continued to raise money promising donors they will get [neonicotinoids] banned. They have been using a variety of techniques to reach their target goals. Union of Concerned Scientists even got one of its political strategists, Aaron Huertas, placed on a panel about science communication last week, to help groom young science communicators to their side.

It’s hard to know where to start with what’s wrong with this statement, but here’s a shot:

  • I’ve never worked on neonicotinoid science or policy.
  • I’m proud of my work with UCS, where I served in various communication roles from 2006 to 2015. But I haven’t worked at the Union of Concerned for three years, so it’s hard to imagine how one could accurately describe me as a political strategist for the organization.
  • The panel on science communication at which I spoke was sponsored by the National Communication Association, which asked me to participate, and Johns Hopkins University. In other words it had nothing to do with UCS, which did not place me on the panel.
  • The author’s imaginary motivation for my participation is funny on multiple levels. First, I can certainly think of better ways to push an anti-neonicotinoid agenda if that were my goal. Second, I didn’t speak about neonicotinoids or pesticides at the panel. Third, a good way to determine someone’s motivations is to, you know, ask them what their motivations are instead of making stuff up about them on a blog. For the record, I like participating in educational programming and training sessions because I think building the scientific community’s advocacy and communication skills strengthens democracy and serves the public interest. And I would have happily told whoever wrote this post that if they had bothered contacting me.

The most ironic part about this? The panel I spoke on was about dealing with misinformation in science communication!

I’ve contacted Campbell multiple times, but haven’t heard back from him. I tweeted to him on Saturday, sent him a DM earlier today, and left him a voicemail via ACSH’s publicly posted phone number. I’ve also contacted ACHS’s communication lead, Erik Liefe, and Alex Berezow, one of its senior fellows. Neither has responded to me. I DMed Campbell again to let him know I was going to write on this to correct the record and that I’d be happy to include any updates or responses from him or Science 2.0. I sent a similar email to Liefe.

To be clear, I don’t know who does these news updates at Science 2.0 or who has editorial control over them or if the site is formally affiliated with ACSH. What I do know is that they published false information about me and I’m willing to spend some time getting that corrected. At this point, I’d also like to know who actually wrote this update, why they didn’t contact me, and why they felt compelled to invent a conspiracy theory about me and my work.

This is actually the second time this year someone with a presumed position of authority has made something like this up about me and my work. Earlier this year, I asked Roger Pielke Jr. a political scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder to correct unfounded public statements he made that I’ve been paid by the Center for American Progress and NextGen Climate to attack him. He declined to do so, instead inventing a conspiracy theory in which I’m leading a group of senior climate scientists against him. Really.

Anyway, the reality is that there are some odd ducks in the science policy community! Sometimes they make deeply uncharitable assumptions about other people and their work, especially those of us who do advocacy and communication for a living. As I told the panel on Thursday, the best thing to do in response is to publicly ask misinformers to correct the record in a venue you can control, whether that’s a Twitter thread or your own blog or a web property operated by an institution you trust.

And for the record, here’s how the Science 2.0 page looked as of Monday morning. I hope they correct their misrepresentations of me and my work, but given Campbell’s non-responses so far, I’m not gonna hold my breath.

But on the upside, now I know how to spell neonicotinoid!

 

And here’s an updated screenshot from 4/24, when the sentence about me was finally deleted.

About the Author Aaron Huertas

Aaron Huertas is a science communicator and public relations professional who lives in Washington, DC.

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