Thoroughly Postmodern Bunyip

Chris Mooney has an excellent article on how "balanced" coverage of scientific issues can misinform readers:

Moreover, the question of how to substitute accuracy for mere "balance" in science reporting has become ever more pointed as journalists have struggled to cover the Bush administration, which scientists have widely accused of scientific distortions. As the Union of Concerned Scientists, an alliance of citizens and scientists, and other critics have noted, Bush administration statements and actions have often given privileged status to a fringe scientific view over a well-documented, extremely robust mainstream conclusion. Journalists have thus had to decide whether to report on a he said/she said battle between scientists and the White House---which has had very few scientific defenders---or get to the bottom of each case of alleged distortion and report on who's actually right.

No wonder scientists have often denounced the press for giving credibility to fringe scientific viewpoints. And without a doubt, the topic on which scientists have most vehemently decried both the media and the Bush administration is global warming. While some scientific uncertainty remains in the climate field, the most rigorous peer-reviewed assessments---produced roughly every five years by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)---have cemented a consensus view that human greenhouse gas emissions are probably (i.e., the conclusion has a fairly high degree of scientific certainty) helping to fuel the greenhouse effect and explain the observed planetary warming of the past fifty years. Yet the Bush administration has consistently sought to undermine this position by hyping lingering uncertainties and seeking to revise government scientific reports. It has also relied upon energy interests and a small cadre of dissenting scientists (some of whom are funded, in part, by industry) in formulating climate policy.

The Melbourne Age's environmental reporter agrees with Mooney:

She worries that the global warming issue has been distorted in some sections of the media. In the pursuit of balance, climate change sceptics are so often approached for comment it seems like there is a 50-50 split of scientific opinion. In fact, there are a handful of sceptics and thousands of scientists around the world who are not, she says.

However, this supposes the existence of some sort of objective truth and Professor Bunyip is having none of it:

as her biography makes clear, the Mancunian Candidate's little green gal is ethically disinclined to seek comment from the other side, not when there are all those sensible scientists to endorse her own views.

I guess that the Flat Earth and Round Earth theories are both just views and reporters should present them both for balance and abandon any idea of letting their readers know which one is correct.

Bunyip admits he doesn't understand the science, but in this post, he is none the less sure that global warming is spurious science and that some campaign against DDT claimed untold lives. His authority? Steve Milloy. Bunyip's predictive powers are no better than his grasp of science, since in the same post (before the Iraq war) he predicted: "benchmark Brent crude plunges to around $21US a barrel" "within six weeks of Saddam's head appearing atop a pole". Alas, prices soared to $50US a barrel. And still in the same post, he demonstrates a decidedly shaky grasp of history, forgetting about Pearl Harbour.

Update: Bunyip offers a very postmodern defence by reinterpreting his own words.


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Funny, about a year ago i went on a rant about he said/she said journalistic practices over at Quark Soup and someone helpfully posted a link to the Association for British Science Writers Guidance for Editors page. Here is what they have to say about "balance" in science writing: Newspapers may suppose that they have produced 'balanced' reports by quoting opposing views from scientists about a particular issue. While the intention may be to present both sides of an argument, a majority view on that matter may be held within the scientific community, and the opposing view is held by only a quixotic minority of individuals. Although the majority view may occasionally prove to be incorrect at a later date, such instances are exceptions rather than the rule. While we appreciate that it may be difficult for journalists to take a poll of scientific views, it is in the public interest that journalists identify, whenever possible, a majority view. Emphasis added to really obvious parts by me.

By bigring55t (not verified) on 15 Feb 2005 #permalink

The Pro's not a bunyip, just a bunny. Thank Merciful Allah that you read the self-basting blather from Blair, Bunyip, Instaguy et al for us Tim, because life is short! I don't think Bunny even does comments does he - a purely self inflating blog phenomenon and blatherskite.