Most people who follow the interaction between science and politics are well aware of the problem of 'he-said, she-said' reporting, the attempt to grant equal time to opposing views, no matter how stupid those ideas are (An aside: I've always imagined a Monty Pythonesque TV anchor turning to a guest, and saying, "And now, for the stupid and incorrect viewpoint, we turn to..."). With that being said, I like how Ivan Oransky rephrases the problem:
The other day, a tweet by Maggie Koerth-Baker, a freelance science journalist in Minneapolis, caught my eye. In it, she bemoaned the fact that editors and producers often encourage their reporters to go find an "opposing viewpoint" to make a story balanced. She said her journalism school professors -- she graduated in 2004 -- always told her the same thing.
That troubled me.
I've been teaching medical journalism at New York University's Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program since 2002, and I taught a similar course at the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism for three years. As I told Maggie and the others having the conversation on Twitter, I never tell my students to get "opposing viewpoint" but to get outside perspective -- one that may agree with the study or the main idea being put forward by a source.
Rephrasing the issue this way makes it much clearer. Now if only political reporters would do the same....
New Scientist articles do this frequently. Very often, even in pretty non-controversial reports, there is "So-and-so, who was not part of the study, said . . ." where the comments vary from "Gee. wouldn't it be nice if it were true" to "I think that most unlikely because . . .".