Media of Mass Destruction: How Fake News Is Killing Italy’s Olive Trees

In 2013, the plant pathogen Xylellafastidiosa was found in Salento, Italy’s most southeastern region, famous for its centuries-old olive trees. Spread by insects, the bacterium is decimating those trees and compromising the production of olive oil, which accounts for a considerable part of the national output. Since there are no means to cure sick plants, the authorities ordered emergency measures to contain the disease, which included removing infected trees and using pesticides against insect vectors. In Salento, these measures aroused intense public opposition. Following a vilifying media campaign and under public pressure, an Italian court halted the containment measures and accused the scientists who detected Xylella as having caused the problem in the first place. The absence of a plan to contain the epidemic, the criminal charges against the scientists, and the public resistance due to inaccurate information may fuel the spread of the disease to the rest of Italy and eventually to the entire Mediterranean basin, with catastrophic economic consequences.

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Giorgia Guglielmi

About Giorgia Guglielmi

Born in Foggia, a sweltering town between the spur and the heel of the Italian boot, Giorgia invested a significant part of her life trying to understand how life works. She holds an undergraduate degree in Biotechnology and a M.S. in Molecular and Cell Biology, both obtained with distinction from the University of Rome “Tor Vergata,” and a PhD in Biology summa cum laude from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany. In the rare moments away from the lab, Giorgia enjoyed writing for the EMBL magazine, organizing science outreach events, and sharing cool facts about biology with students across Europe. After two chilly and writing-intense semesters in Boston, she has moved to warmer climates to report for Science Magazine in Washington, DC. When not writing about science, she can be found on Twitter or running at the National Mall.

 
 

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