When I’m speaking about how to fix the politics-of-science problem, I often target the media for special criticism. I point out that if journalists weren’t so addicted to the norm of fify-fifty “balance,” they wouldn’t be so vulnerable to the machinations of science abusers who attempt to create phony “debates” over topics like evolution or global warming.
But when asked what to do about this problem, I don’t throw up my hands in despair. Quite the contrary: I think that, at least to a large extent, journalists are amenable to reason. Sure, we need better science education in journalism school. But we also need to take the argument straight to journalists: There’s no justification for fifty-fifty balance in coverage irrespective of the issue being covered. Rather, in each and every story, journalists have to make a judgment about how credible their sources are. The obvious reductio ad absurdum is Holocaust deniers: Should their perspective be provided, for “balance,” any time someone writes about the Holocaust? Of course not.
Faced with this argument directly, I doubt any journalist would really reject it. The good news, then, is that the argument is being made more and more prominently. To give just one example: I saw Good Night, and Good Luck last night, and the Edward R. Murrow character makes this very point about the limits of “balance,” quite explicitly. It was extremely heartening to see such a position being adopted in a popular movie. And as more and more media critics make this point, I am optimistic that it will eventually stick.