Guest Columns
4 mins read

How and why publishers are sourcing scientific experts to write content

OPINION

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, many publishers have been faced with the challenge of how to find expert science writers who are able to distill the rapid flow of scientific information into articles, in an accurate and contextually relevant way.

This issue has been brought into sharp relief by last week’s disclosure that The World Health Organization and many governments changed their Covid-19 policies and treatments on the basis of flawed data from a little-known US healthcare analytics company, Surgisphere. According to reports, several of Surgisphere’s employees had little or no scientific background, with one employee a science fiction author, and another listed as an adult content model.

The issue has not only been limited to B2B publishers operating in the healthcare and scientific space, but also consumer facing publishers looking to engage their audience with up to date content regarding the pandemic.

To alleviate some of these challenges, publishers have been tapping into an increasing trend for scientists and academic experts to lend their skills on a freelance basis. Specialist websites are able to quickly connect publishers with PhD level experts in a broad array of scientific disciplines, on an hourly or project basis.

These freelancing platforms offer easy, on-demand access to scientists across a variety of medical disciplines including epidemiology, virology, public health and chemistry, as well as non-medical areas such as machine learning, data science and food science. Here are the benefits of hiring scientific experts.

Fact-checking and verifying information

A study conducted by MIT in 2018 found that fake news is 70% more likely to be retweeted on Twitter than true stories are. Given the rate at which misinformation spreads, publishers have a greater responsibility than ever before to ensure all content they put up is verified and accurate.

Specific to COVID-19 related news, the Reuters Institute at the University of Oxford states that: “In terms of formats, most (59%) of the misinformation in our sample involves various forms of reconfiguration, where existing and often true information is spun, twisted, recontextualized, or reworked.”

The study also found that reconfigured content saw higher engagement than content that was wholly fabricated.

Vox reported in 2017 that half of the scientific studies that we read about in the news are wrong. A key reason for this is that journalists tend to report initial findings from a single study, and rarely follow up with reports from the meta-reviews. Consulting an expert can help journalists understand whether their report is grounded in a set of robust scientific studies and how best to communicate it to the public.

Publishers and broadcasters form the bridge between government/policy makers and laypeople, playing a key role in building public trust. Whether it’s what temperature will kill coronavirus or the correct hand-washing technique, publishers need to convey information transparently and clearly to prevent fuelling a fake news pandemic.

Improve visibility on Google

An additional driving force behind this trend is Google’s Medic Algorithm Update of 2018, which caused publishers to think about the credentials of those authoring their content. The Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines note the importance of authors having relevant expertise or accreditation, especially in topics relating to medical advice (which needs to be edited, reviewed and updated regularly). The same is said of scientific topics, financial advice, legal advice, tax advice, advice pages on topics such as home remodeling (which can cost thousands of dollars and impact your living situation) or advice on parenting issues (which can impact the future happiness of a family) which should also come from “expert” or experienced sources that users can trust.

Publishers are coming to realise that the expertise, authority and trust (E-A-T) of their authors is a factor that Google evaluators take into account when assessing the quality of publisher websites and their content. In turn this can impact their level of visibility in the Google search results.

For example the Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines state that “scientific topics should be produced by people or organizations with appropriate scientific expertise” and “High quality pages and websites need enough expertise to be authoritative and trustworthy on their topic”.

In a March 2020 update, Google stated that: “Assessing your own content in terms of E-A-T criteria may help align it conceptually with the different signals that our automated systems use to rank content.”

As well as ensuring you have authors with appropriate expertise, one of the ways you may be able to ensure you are offering Google the right signals is by having an author box that clearly states the author’s credentials. You can also add ‘person schema’ markup to the article or author page which states the author’s attributes including affiliation, alumniOf, award, hasCredential, hasOccupation, honorificPrefix, honorificSuffix, jobTitle. These signals help Google as it seeks content that is not just relevant to the search queries, but can demonstrate a high level of E-A-T.

For publishers with a large backlog of published content that may not have been written by authors who satisfy the E-A-T criteria, it’s worth considering revisiting this content using fact checkers with the right credentials. By noting on the page that the articles have been fact checked by a qualified individual, it’s possible to signal to Google that the E-A-T requirements have been satisfied.

Conclusion

There are multiple benefits to publishers in tapping into the skills and knowledge of expert scientists and academics. Historically this has not been easy, but the rise of the gig economy has not left science behind, and it’s now easier than ever for publishers to find the expert scientific writing skills they need.


Jonathan Hedger
Director, Kolabtree

About: Kolabtree is the world’s largest freelance platform for scientists, helping organizations hire experts on demand. Affiliated with institutions like MIT, Harvard University, and Cambridge University, its 15,000+ freelancers work remotely across the globe. They specialize in a wide range of subjects ranging from scientific and medical writing, through to biotechnology, chemistry, and data science.

Related posts

What's New In Publishing articles suggested by Bibblio
Helping publishers increase engagement, improve monetization and drive new audiences. Read more