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Jamieson's work combats the potentially negative consequences of misleading scientific data in political debates on controversial topics. Credit: Max Cohen

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of Penn's Annenberg Public Policy Center and a professor of communication, will receive the 2020 Public Welfare Medal, the highest medal of honor from the National Academy of Sciences.

The National Academy of Sciences will present Jamieson with the award at their 157th annual meeting on April 26. The Public Welfare Medal, established in 1914, honors an individual for "extraordinary use of science for the public good," according to their website.

Jamieson co-founded FactCheck.org in 2003 "to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics." With Brooks Jackson, FactCheck.org's director emeritus, Jamieson leads the organization in assessing the factual accuracy of statements U.S. politicians make in debates, interviews, and speeches. Jamieson said that the website also includes SciCheck, a fact-checking feature that reveals false scientific claims made to influence public policy.

“The SciCheck part of FactCheck.org was designed to respond to claims that were being made about science that were simply inaccurate, largely in political arenas,” Jamieson said.

Her work, specifically in political and scientific communication, combats the potentially negative consequences of misleading scientific data in political debates on controversial topics, such as climate change and vaccinations, Jamieson added.

Jamieson said she and Jackson worked together in 1988 on a campaign for CNN to analyze inaccurate claims in televised advertisements. She said they created a "visual grammar," a fact-checking solution that allows news outlets to visually point to misleading, false information shown in commercials.

Penn offers an undergraduate fellows program, launched in 2010, through which students can conduct their own research on political claims and write and edit articles for FactCheck.org.  

“I’m very proud of the fact that if you walk through the policy center, you will find undergraduates working in most of our major areas, helping us create our research,” Jamieson said. “And in the case of FactCheck and SciCheck which are really being honored by this award, our undergraduates have, since 2003, been helping create that content.”

Past recipients of the Public Welfare Medal include Bill and Melinda Gates, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and astronomer Carl Sagan. 

“Science is perverted in a polarized environment. Trying to protect its findings is really important," Jamieson said. "There is a signal behind the medal about the importance of the activities that we and many others engage in.” 

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