I read an interesting commentary today by columnist Lawrence Lessig in Wired magazine. He was touting Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth", and mentioned that in addition to the main subject, Al brings some other inconvenient truths to light. Here is part of what Lessig wrote:
About halfway through, Gore cites two studies to explain why so many people remain so skeptical about global warming. The first looked at a random sample of almost 1,000 abstracts on climate change in peer-reviewed scientific journals from 1993 to 2003 and found that exactly zero doubted "that we're causing global warming." The second surveyed a random sample of more than 600 articles about global warming in popular media between 1988 and 2002 and discovered that 53 percent questioned "that we're causing global warming."We see this sort of thing from all manner of news sources - there appears to be a desire for the reporter not to 'take sides' and so we get both the actual realistic truth about a topic as well as some dissenter's version of reality to 'balance' things. The other prime example of this is the evolution versus intelligent design battle.
Good journalism likes two sides to every story. Lazy journalism fails to distinguish between objective sources and interested parties - and this issue has interested parties aplenty, from industry-funded think tanks to hired PR firms, feeding the press the disinformation it needs to make the story sound balanced. This is the media's own inconvenient truth - that the institution charged with reporting the facts is so easily manipulated by those whose "salary depends upon [our] not understanding" the facts (to reuse Gore's favorite Upton Sinclair quote). The result is the perfect storm for obfuscation. You can't buy the story outright, but you can twist it enough that the truth is no longer recognizable.
There is no debate about this in the scientific community, yet the folks who wish to promote intelligent design have fabricated a controversy - to the point that they are now suggesting that schools at least "teach the controversy" and present the various competing 'theories'. The press then covers this as if there were scientists on both sides of the issue - they get quotes from someone who endorses evolution and quotes from someone who does not and pass it off as balanced journalism.
One has to assume that this is par for the course - just because a reputable news source presents two opposing arguments on seemingly equal terms there is no reason to believe that they are even in the same ballpark as each other, but in most cases we are in no position to judge. We rely on journalists to inform us, but they let us down terribly.