Monday, September 27, 2010

An additional note on Modesto

PZ Myers on Pharyngula picked up on this one as well ("The science media make my head hurt") and he commented on something I noticed but hadn't thought through -- so I wanted to add this to my original post.

If you went to the original link ("Modesto science teacher's plan to teach intelligent design sparks debate") you saw that off on the left-side of the main article are two sets of links, one explaining ID and one explaining Evolution. The article's writer went to the Discovery Institute (DI) and the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) for their information. The error they made, and one I agree with PZ on, is that they seemed to treat both organizations the same. This offered way to much credibility to the Discovery Institute! As PZ said:

"And of course, they go to the Discovery Institute for their story about ID, and set them against the NCSE, as if these two groups have an equal investment in the scientific truth. They do not. Intelligent Design has no credibility, no empirical support, and no reasonable proposals for scientific investigation. When will the media wake up and realize that their constant pushing of a false equivalency is a major factor in feeding this pseudo-controversy?"
One of the factors driving the success of the Discovery Institute's marketing campaigns is that the media tends to treat them as if they have credibility, as if they are offering something on par with evolutionary theory. That's is simply not true!

Lauri Lebo discussed this in her excellent book "The Devil In Dover" with a quote from Science Magazine's Donald Kennedy:
"There's a very small set of people who question the consensus," Kennedy said. "And there are a great many thoughtful reporters in the media who believe that in order to produce a balanced story , you've got to pick on commentator from side A and one commentator from side B."
She also quoted Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in their book "Elements of Journalism":
"Balance, for instance, can lead to distortion. If an overwhelming percentage of scientists, for example, believe that Global Warming is a scientific fact, or that some medical treatment is clearly the safest, it is a disservice to citizens and truthfulness to create the impression that the scientific debate is equally split."
Nan Austin of the Modesto Bee made the error of consensus. Oh I am sure she means well, but by giving the impression that the NCSE and the DI have the same degree of credibility, or that Evolution and Intelligent Design are on equal footing in the scientific community is just plain wrong!

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