One of my fares was a professor of journalism at Penn State, so I asked him as we arrived at his destination, why is it that global warming is always reported using two sides, even if the discussion is unrealistically forced into a balance? When it is discussed, there are only a handful of nay-sayers who seem to get a majority of the face time, while the real debate in the science community has moved on to questions of best fit in models and why are we seeing a greater melting of the Arctic than predicted. The professors answer was "fear." Writers and Editors fear the loss of income, fear taking on this issue and reporting the reality because Shell has a full page ad, or that they will loose readership....

Here is a good discussion of a recent Lou Dobbs piece on global cooling/warming done by the writers over at

Part of the reason that I am a "radical atheist" is that many people use faith to rationalize their way out of facing reality. Whether it is global warming or evolution, our national discussion, carried out on a day to day basis through the media is warped by "balance". Science is under attack. Not just by corporations, but by preachers and lay people. Feeding this is a pervasive anti-intellectualism in the USA, "it's not cool to do well in school" attitude that fuels individuals rationalizations to not face reality. I was actually told during a discussion about the environmental destruction of clear cutting "God's going to destroy the earth, we're just helping him." Ugh!

Really, in this day and age you are going to use that in a discussion?

At the beginning of the article I linked to above is a short statement "With the axing of the CNN Science News team, most science stories at CNN are now being given to general assignment reporters who don't necessarily have the background to know when they are being taken for a ride."

This is the problem, what is the solution?

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Science is under attack. Not just by corporations, but by preachers and lay people. Feeding this is a pervasive anti-intellectualism in the USA,

You are right on the money: Most of the American public doesn't know or understand the underpinning of the scientific method: hence they believe it is appropriate to present opposing views when they are not credible. They do this under the guise of "fairness".

The problem is, some ideas are supported by data and rational analysis -- while others are not. To present them on equal footing does a disservice to everyone.

Religion, and society's general taboo on criticizing "faith", is at the core of the problem. It is somehow considered nobel to believe in things for which there is no (or precious little) evidence. Until we as a people are free to openly criticize (and even ridicule) ridiculous positions (e.g. - creationism, etc.) we're gonna be stuck in this rut.
At the end of my post I asked the question, what is the solution...?

Today I came across one solution that makes a lot of sense. The authors of a paper in the next issue of Nature (Jan 22, 2009) have gone on the offensive.

"We have already seen misleading interpretations of our results in the popular press and the blogosphere, and so we thought we would nip such speculation in the bud."

To be published in Nature is to have survived rigorous, fact checking, data checking, and methodology checking. Very few articles get published in Nature that are junk science, in fact most junk science never even attempts to go that route of publication. Instead they circumvent the rigors and just tell some news reporter who can read what is on the telepromt, but does not know the first thing about the science scoop laid out before them. The sound bite of "Cold Fusion has been discovered!" or "Imagine a car that runs on water!" travels far in what passes as news, but will never lick a stamp, and send the manila envelope, containing the research, to the editors of Nature.

So how do we combat this...

I recently attempted to digest a blog claiming to have proof that the globe is not warming due to anthropogenic causes, but rather that the sun is to blame. The evidence? Mars has methane plumes and is warming too. I couldn't even start to form a coherent sentence immediately after reading the blog. Then I tried to stomach the comments, hoping that somewhere there was an intelligent counterargument....but alas, not one comment that pointed out the problems, the inconsistencies. I knew that being 50th on this comment list was going to do no good. (

Then I came across this article

Today, however, I have found a solution, scientists have to defend their work in the general blog-o-sphere, or take on their critics not just in Nature, but in the media. Most don't have time, or are unaware of the world outside their particular brand of science, but to inform the populace is going to take all of us, those that did the research, those that understand the research, and people who know how to reach millions of others through the media, the internet and by any means necessary.

How do we do this effectively? Commenting on a blog entry that has many comments and is totally off base, does this work? Can you convince a deluded person that they are deluded?

I have run into this problem with other discussions, for example the existence of any god, or gay marriage, or racism or as in this case global warming.

The problem as I see it is that the people who we are arguing against are invested in their world view, and at the center of that world view is the issue that we are at odds over. To admit that their side of the issue is wrong is to shatter their world view. We are asking them to shatter what is, to jump a crevasse, blindfolded. They are raging so hard against the world on this issue that to take that away, to us may seem like compassion and mercy, to them is eternal damnation.

How do we free our brothers and sisters who have known nothing but chains......Plato thought about this a long time ago. Well I guess talking and discussing the issue in the intertubes will be a good first step.
It really disgusts me when I see things like this. The media just doesn't care that there aren't always two sides to every science story. Skepticism of the supernatural is always a token gesture and skepticism of mainstream science is always given too much credit.
I think the problem is slightly wider based than simply an "equal opportunity" based media coverage of important or controversial ideas.

There exists this mid-ground idea that as a result of living in a multi-perspective culture containing a great many subjective points of view, all ideas must be given equal exposure to public scrutiny, whether the idea is really all that debatable or not. The statement itself is really an innocent one, and certainly deserves it's own level of value in our "marketplace of ideas" culture, but I think there is a baser misunderstanding of what it really means to open an idea up to scrutiny. For some reason people in the media (and elsewhere) seem to think that there are no differences between public and professional scrutiny and that objectivity is somehow democratic. I think the problem comes into play when a great many people whom are either unaware of or choose to ignore certain parts of history or past scientific discovery seem to think that their opinions are as educated as those from people with the respective degrees regardless of whether or not they have personally done studies on the topic being argued. We live in a culture in which it becomes more damaging to one's character to publicly admit a lack of knowledge than it is to simply make statement based on false or misunderstood information. This becomes extremely apparent when arguing with anyone who still buys the ID movement propaganda and will use a layman's understanding of the definitions of "scientific theory" and "equal opportunity" in the attempt to push an idea into public schools which only really serves to promote a worldview.

Also, as a people, we have pretty much accepted the philosophy that there exists an absolute and immutable objective reality we perceive through the windows of millions of individual and group perspectives, all of which are necessarily exclusive. It would seem logical therefore to air as many of these perspectives as possible (showing a biased preference is unavoidable, even in the most stringent of media environments), so that there is an awareness of all of the available information. It seems that modern science education (for the most part) doesn't adequately educate people in the philosophy of science, in that there is a unique and systematic way by which scientists think and analyze information they gather from the natural world. So without a proper philosophical scientific attitude, it becomes easy to ascribe an equal value to all ideas regardless of source or past examination. And, given equal value, I could easily choose religion or astrology or any number of hundreds of other false avenues of perspective simply because they seem more likable or acceptable to one who wants to feel better about themselves or about society as a whole. Ignoring the contradictory information would be really easy if I subscribed to the idea that all ideas contain the same value, or that dictum and pathos hold as much weight as research and model.

Personally, I think the solution lies in convincing scientific dissenters that some ideas hold more value (and water) than others, and that credential and ethos are poor substitutes for critical thought when it comes down to analyzing ideas told to one by either the media or an educator.
As a journalist hopeful, this "fair and balanced" bullshit drives me even more crazy than it must drive you. Accuracy is forgotten in the media because accuracy offends, makes people uncomfortable, and is never balanced. Life isn't fair. The facts are never equal to each side--assuming there's just two sides!


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