SCOTLAND needs an official fact-checking service to challenge fake news on science and counter Covid misinformation, the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) says.

The “fully independent” service would “review and challenge misreporting and support accurate presentation of scientific information in the public domain”.

The action is one of four key recommendations laid out by the RSE’s Post-Covid-19 Futures Commission, which also calls for a the set-up of an independent “foresighting centre” to assess future risk and preparedness, as well as a national participation centre to help ordinary people drive government decisions and boost Covid recovery.

The proposed body would work across government and public agencies to help more people get involved in setting the agenda.

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The findings follow 18 months of work on how to build national resilience, good public debate and participation, the use of data and science and the inclusiveness of public service.

RSE said: “Improving how science is communicated and increasing public trust in science is imperative. A fully independent fact-checking service should be created to review and challenge misreporting and support accurate presentation of scientific information in the public domain. The Scottish Government should also work with partners to support an informed national conversation about the use of personal data and data sharing for public good, to inform responses to future pandemics and other societal challenges.”

The commission was put in place to identify and address some of the immediate policy implications and challenges arising from the pandemic and help support the future of Scotland beyond the immediate crisis. Those involved include biologist Dame Anne Glover, broadcaster James Naughtie, equalities campaigner Talat Yaqoob and forensic scientist Professor Niamh Nic Daeid.

Their recommendations also include a “transformation” in the delivery of public services, with a new partnership needed to actively promote the principles and experience of social prescribing.

Glover, the commission chair, said: “As we emerge from our most recent challenge as a society and some of the worst times many of us have lived through, it’s important that we take stock and learn from it to support a better future and be more prepared should another crisis hit.”

Welcoming the report’s findings, Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “The Scottish Government values the work of the RSE as Scotland’s National Academy and its commitment to advancing learning and useful knowledge.

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"This commitment has been particularly evident over the last 18 months, with fellows of the RSE being at the forefront of supporting people in their understanding of the pandemic.

“We welcome the Post-Covid Futures Commission report and will consider its recommendations closely.

“The Scottish Government’s recently published Covid Recovery Strategy sets out the need to work collaboratively and build on the urgency, flexibility and creativity seen during the pandemic to tackle the inequalities that were exposed and exacerbated.

“We look forward to further engagement with the RSE as we work to support Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic and bring about a fairer future for everyone.”

The report was launched online today and can be downloaded from the Commission’s website.