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Tailor: The Media Needs a Little Scientific Oversight

July 7, 2011

The media is a wonderful establishment, and since the inception of the printing press, radio, television, and the internet, it has often been a thorn on the side of authority. It tirelessly works to, what they claim, bring us the truth. Journalists can be found at disaster zones, war zones, crime scenes, legislatures around the world, jail (if you’re in China), dead (if you’re in Russia), and sometimes by the public pool when days are really hot to ask bystanders how they are cooling off. They work tirelessly to understand what’s at stake, and to figure out an apt and reasonable explanation for you. Journalism is a valiant career choice, if you’ve seen it accomplished properly, and there are accomplished journalists who deserve our praise. However, these are just a handful.

Regardless, I think the media is making us stupid. More specifically, the news media is making us stupid. No, not reality TV trash such as Jersey Shore (that’s already a given), but news broadcasts and even newspapers. How might you ask?

I would argue that this is due to the internalization of the notion that “both sides” of the argument should be reported on in order to seem like a fair and neutral journalistic outlet. This has led to some deadly consequences, as public relations agencies hired by industries and political organizations can exploit this key weakness to front views in the media that are scientifically incorrect in order to establish political dominance for their goals.

We can see this as supporters of intelligent design gain a platform in the news media to promote their views. We also see supporters of the notion that vaccination causes autism get themselves a platform as well, despite the entire study being an example of medical fraud. Got enough of Fox News? Bill Maher is also one of those anti-vaccine types promoting alternative medicine on his show which often dwells into the news stories of the day. Scientologists have also figured out a method by which they can attack psychiatry, by utilizing high-profile names, though thankfully the media hasn’t bought this brand of craziness as of yet.

Often times if a public relations agency pays enough cash to a scientist who holds a doctorate, you’ll get what you want the media to hear. A great example of this is Dr. Fred Singer, a man who was hired by a public relations agency contracted by a tobacco firm, who argued against the scientific consensus that secondhand smoke was carcinogenic. Lo and behold, the same man today is arguing against the scientific consensus on climate change. He’s a public face, and often invited by media outlets to provide an “alternative view” on the scientific consensus under the guise of a rebel against an onslaught beset upon him by some surprisingly organized cabal of self-interested/evil/stupid/group-thinking climatologists.

All in all, such unscientific views promoted by the media needs to be addressed.  Nevertheless, it’s dangerous to have the state regulate such affairs, yet it is equally dangerous to allow such unscientific views to gain credence. With regards to vaccination, lives are literally on the line, as something like deadly preventable diseases can result in children taken to the ER due to the misunderstandings of a parent on the safety of vaccination. Promotion of alternative medicine often results in the exacerbation of illness, as said illness is not tended to.  Policy inaction on secondhand smoke may as well already harmed many individuals.

Alas, providing a platform with equal credence for those arguing against the scientific consensus on climate change has resulted in inaction to curb emissions by Canada, United States, and Australia. It has further resulted in the following sad statistic: only 47% of Americans think climate change is influenced in part by human activity. Global inaction will result in vast disruptions of ecosystems, such as the acidification of oceans and coral bleaching caused by an influx of carbon dioxide, which would ravage local fishing and tourism economies of Australia and even national economies of nations such as the Bahamas (which relies heavily on fishing and tourism), and that’s just the tip of what would have once been the iceberg.

However, what is the solution to this? I hardly believe that the state can play a role in determining what is “right” while what is “wrong”. If anything,  a pressing issue such as the media’s ignorance of the scientific method can be addressed through the organization in question sending journalists to a college or university course for training on the scientific method, the process of peer review, and even statistics. Perhaps through self-regulation by the media, through the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, can we see a positive change, while ensuring that the state does not encroach over free speech rights. At least for Canada.

It’s high time journalists realized that there are not always two sides to everything, or else we the people will bear the costs.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 7, 2011 10:58 pm

    The current head of OpenFile, Wilf Dinnick addressed the whole “neutrality of the media” bullshit at the CUP (Canadian University Press) conference in Montreal in January as his keynote, saying it’s mainly because journalists (and their media corps) are so afraid they’ll get sued out of their asses if they report something as from one side. Because people themselves got tired of one sided reporting and wanted the neutrality.

    But it might start swinging back to the other side now.

    Also, do you know how ridiculous science journalism can be? At Imprint, apparently the science section sucked for years even though Waterloo is a primarily science school because people were incompetent until a few of our current science writers came in and cleaned it up, one being an English major who knew how to explain things without being stupid about it, the other a Science major who understood that we shouldn’t be taking things like naturopathy seriously.

  2. David permalink
    July 8, 2011 12:35 am


    Jonathan Sarfati’s newest book is “The Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins on Evolution” (2010)

    Cornell University professor Dr. John Sanford, pioneer of plant genetic engineering and inventor of the gene gun has commented: “In my opinion Sarfati’s book beats Dawkins’ book [“The Greatest Show on Earth”] point by point, on all issues.”

    To view a two-part TV interview with Jonathan Sarfati, go to:

    If Sarfati’s book has been totally ignored by the mainstream media, why is that unusual? Interviews with evolutionists appear regularly in newspapers, and on televison and radio (eg. NPR’s “Talk of the Nation: Science Friday”; CBC’s “Quirks & Quarks”). How often have you read or heard an interview with a creationary scientist, such as D. Russell Humphreys, Kurt Wise, Sigrid Hartwig-Scherer, Werner Gitt, or John Baumgardner?

    If you never have, is this because creationary scientists don’t conduct scientific research, or is it because of other reasons? On the PBS documentary In the Beginning: The Creationist Controversy, Phillip Johnson commented: “Darwinian theory is the creation myth of our culture. It’s the officially sponsored, government financed creation myth that the public is supposed to believe in, and that creates the evolutionary scientists as the priesthood…So we have the priesthood of naturalism, which has great cultural authority, and of course has to protect its mystery that gives it that authority. That’s why they’re so vicious towards critics.”

  3. July 8, 2011 12:59 am

    well said, like acting as if creationism were an alternative.

  4. Semi-troll permalink
    July 8, 2011 12:42 pm

    The idea of teaching creationism in school is ridiculuous. There is no valid basis for it, you use religious doctrine as fact when frequently it is obviously contradicting obvious knowledge (ie. Denying Fossils; the notions that the world is only a few thousand years old as many evangilist christians believe). Or you make assumptions that a deistic creator exists again with no evidence to support your claims. Creationism really cannot ever substitute for any credible subject, unless its group in with the other childrens stories in kindergarten class

  5. July 9, 2011 4:38 pm

    While creationists are dangerously misinformed, the reason they’re over-represented has more to do with tax benefits to religious institutions (and contributions to). Science also does not deal in absolutes, nor does it establish concise boundaries for discussion. It is because it has been presented with these (albeit outrageous) counter-arguments that science is drawn to test all boundaries. Over-protecting science itself as a magical instrument would render its findings as irrelevant as those of theists. Besides, all we needs is a PBS to offset the entire spectrum of media silliness.

    • July 10, 2011 12:38 am

      I know exactly what you mean, which is why I proposed self-regulation by the CBSC. A journalist that at least understands the scientific method and what goes on into research would be a better scrutineer than someone who is not. At the same time, this would not establish any sort of “absolutes”. If anything, it would elevate the quality of reporting and weed out silly shit where the media goes apeshit over tiny scientific innovations and brands them as massive breakthroughs.

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