Lifespan.io Ethics Code of Longevity Journalism
As medical science progresses, uncovering the causes of aging and opening the doors to healthy life extension technologies, journalists covering this field of science are facing a bigger challenge than ever before. Not only do they have to navigate the complex dimensions of aging research, adjusting their views to new concepts and possibilities every day, they also have to fulfill their mission in the presence of cognitive biases related to aging, an information storm, and increasingly pervading snake oil salesmen, fraud, and fake news.
Rejuvenation biotechnology has the potential to become a game changer for billions of people suffering from age-related diseases and their relatives. It is a lack of information that stands between those affected by age-related diseases and the solutions that are being created by researchers. Hence it is our common duty to provide accurate information, maintain a productive public dialogue and ensure fact-based decision making concerning methods of healthy life extension.
We are calling upon both professional and citizen journalists covering aging research and life extension to conform to the highest standards of ethics.
As one of the pioneers of the industry, we have developed the Lifespan.io Ethics Code of Longevity Journalism that can from now on be a guide for all good-faith actors in our community as well as for ourselves.
Empowering the public
Promote communication of facts: The goal of a journalist is to establish and maintain productive communication between members of the public by providing and distributing factual information. Sensationalism should be avoided; the title of an article should reflect its actual content. For example, if the study is in mice, the title should not imply that the study results concern humans. Any events involving celebrities should only be discussed by longevity news outlets if they are directly and clearly related to age-related conditions with which they been professionally diagnosed. Overpromising words and expressions, such as “immortality”, must be avoided.
Focus on what is important: Journalists must be aware that the ever-increasing volume of information makes it difficult for readers to determine what is important, and so they should strive to deliver the most life-shaping news first. Journalists must determine what information is considered important based on the larger context of the current research landscape and societal development.
Embrace diversity of opinion: Longevity journalists must acknowledge that scientific data is always evolving, and diversity of opinion is a natural and necessary part of scientific research. The materials presented to the public should be based on facts and an impartial analysis whenever possible, but hypothesis and opinions represent value when presented with proper context.
Reach out to the underserved: Journalists must be aware that social media algorithms and other factors may lead to certain populations not receiving relevant and useful content, and they should try their best to ensure their content reaches such populations.
Hold the powerful accountable: Longevity journalists must showcase, and communicate to the public, the policies that are in the best interest of society, and they should hold the powerful accountable for acting upon them as well as ignoring and delaying them.
Do no harm
Inform not suggest: Longevity journalists have the ability to push people towards making health choices. For this reason, they should hold themselves accountable when it comes to covering medical research, clinical trials, and especially anecdotal self-experiments. The goal is to inform, not to steer people towards certain choices. Report truthfully on any limitations and caveats of the study you are covering. Longevity journalists should not inflate the meaning and the potential effects of the results.
Use accurate terminology: Proper usage of terminology is a must; for example, do not call volunteers in clinical trials “patients”. Avoid referring to unproven interventions as therapies, this suggests a benefit and is misleading. Treatments is a more suitable choice of wording. Proper disclaimers and warnings about the experimental nature of a treatment discussed are a must.
Make the pyramid of evidence clear: When writing about cell culture or animal studies, longevity journalists should always choose language that makes it clear that the results reported in these studies are not guaranteed to translate to humans. Indeed, many results which work well in animals go on to fail in human trials, so always write in a way that sets reasonable expectations and avoids overpromising.
Present full data: Reporting of potential interventions should include not only potential benefits but also side effects and potential risks. Negative data from studies should get as much coverage as previous positive data.
Have compassion: Longevity journalists should see sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect and compassion. The wellbeing of the subject’s should be considered when determining what information can be shared publicly.
Provide fair treatment: Because of the rapidly changing nature of concepts in rejuvenation biotechnology, the use of outdated materials may be inappropriate, misrepresentative, or embarrassing to individuals if used today. Members of the public that are subject to criticisms should be allowed to provide their opinions and defend themselves for the sake of embracing the diversity of opinion.
Use multiple sources whenever possible: For the sake of accurate reporting, longevity journalists should use more than one source of information and tell the story within the context of previous research.
Involve independent sources: Researchers might be biased because of their personal involvement, so longevity journalists should attempt to involve independent respected industry leaders when reporting on studies.
Credit sources: Sources of information such as scientific publications, press releases, information on a biotech website, interviews, and personal discussion must be declared. Avoid anonymous sources as much as possible to avoid distorted information. Avoid using press releases in full without independent commentary. Longevity journalists should indicate each source and couple it with independent opinion.
Clearly disclose conflicts of interest: If a journalist has a personal financial interest in a biotechnology company, that person should not be given the task of covering the activities of that particular company. If coverage must be provided when the journalist or publication itself has a financial interest, a conflict of interest disclaimer should be made clearly and publicly. Articles coming from external contributors must include a disclaimer of their affiliation or interest in the companies mentioned in the article. If a journalist receives a travel grant to attend a public event of scientific significance, it is appropriate to declare the source of grant.
Contextualize the quality of data: Take into account the current accepted practices of open access. Publication in a highly ranked journal does not guarantee accuracy. Publication in an open-access database does not necessarily mean that the information is of low quality. Longevity journalists should declare the source and provide their best assessment of the data based on its interconnection and cohesion with other research in the same field as well as the scientific credibility of the researcher. For example, when covering a preprint longevity journalists should always note that the data may change after the paper is peer-reviewed and approved for publication, and it should be taken into account.
The source should not have review or approval power: Showing a source the finalized version of an article to be published has the risk of diminishing journalistic professionalism as well as the source’s respect for that journalist’s organization. It is a journalist’s job to research and write factual articles. Sending a finalized version to get approval from interviewees signals doubt in the journalist’s own professionalism and skills.
The possible expection to this is when it is a subject outside of the journalist’s expertise or involves highly technical details; in this situation, it is appropriate to go over the details to ensure that they are factual. However, those changes must only relate to facts and must not be of a grammatical or stylistic nature. In all cases, any content that is labeled as being authored by any organization must be determined by that organization and not a third party.
Ensure independent writing: A journalist with a vested interest in a company should be withdrawn from reporting on any story related to that company or its competitors.
Refuse gifts: Longevity journalists should understand that gifts and other means of building friendly relationships can influence reporting. Therefore, they should avoid accepting personal gifts or favours of any kind from companies whose activities are to be covered as well as from their competitors.
Avoid sponsor influence: Sponsors must not influence editorial decisions. The choice of materials should reflect the interests of the public, not any small group of people.
Clearly indicate advertisements: All advertising content should be clearly and unambiguously marked as such. This applies to all types of materials, including paid content.
Recognize personal involvement
Recognize unconscious emotional factors: Life and death matters can influence perceptions and thereby affect reporting, manifesting in unconscious word choice favoring or disregarding certain scientific developments. Longevity journalists should attempt to mitigate unconscious emotional response by focusing on fact-based reporting and providing proper context on covered subjects.
Avoid biases: Longevity journalists striving for fact-based reporting should be aware of general cognitive biases as well as cognitive biases specific to the topic of radical life extension. Revealing and avoiding own biases can be achieved with the help of other team members checking the article in question.
Declare presence of personal views: Science journalists have their own opinions and preferences when it comes to scientific paradigms. Instead of denying personal preferences, declare them so that the public can take them into consideration when reading the article.
The Lifespan.io Ethics Code of Longevity Journalism will be an ever-evolving set of principles, we plan to update and improve it as new challenges arise. If you are a journalist and you would like to contribute to its improvement, you are welcome to let us know your thoughts.