Thursday, April 14, 2005

Logical fallacies, empirical truths

Bringing third parties into our local blogscrap with NC Media Watch's Russ Steele
- his posts here and here; ours, plus his comments, here and here -
regarding "balance" in reporting, decent science journalism, and how to evaluate evidence - in part spurred by the (against "balance") April Fools Scientific American editorial "Okay, We Give Up" -

...outsourcing judgment to the experts is likely to yield far better results [than trying to learn climate science from scratch]. Don't take it up here, Russ; take it up with the scientists who devote their lives to studying climate science and aren't being funded by those with a vested interest in a particular outcome.

(taking the view that one should not engage in argument from authority or against inauthority)
Please do not fall into the trap of attacking the scientist, when their science challenges cherished points of view. If you can prove their science wrong with data, OK. Just attaching the person and the funding shows how weak your argument is. Data is true regardless of sides, regardless of where the funding comes from, government, environmentalist, or industry. Data is data. It does not have emotions.

..."consider the source" is a pretty good heuristic...

Like Woody Allen conjuring up Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall, we at NCFocus happen to have John Rennie, editor-in-chief of Scientific American, right here:
Brooke Gladstone: So then, what is the responsibility of the media when it comes to reporting issues like evolution and global warming and species extinction and acid rain and missile defense - do reporters have a responsibility to quote the senators and the novelists, even when there is a clear scientific consensus?

John Rennie: There's certainly a proper way to represent these kinds of contrary views, but in perspective. You don't want to have stories structured in such a way that, for example, you have one global warming supporter who is quoted, representing 98 percent of the scientific community and then matched up against one other person who's a denier, who's given effectively the same amount of space. Because then people in your audience could be left with the idea that there is a more equal balance in how seriously those ideas are taken. You also want to be able to point out, for example, what kinds of affiliations do the people on both sides have.

...I think what we're seeing these days is people trying to make a fetish of balance.

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