What They Said...

Monday, March 01, 2010

We've all bitched about the Main Stream Media here, and how they have become lazy . Never mind the search for truth; all the MSM does any more is report what somebody said, regardless of its veracity.

Last week, I stumbled across this fun little bit from the folks at Cracked: 5 Things The Media Loves Pretending Are News. Go figure; like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, it obviously takes comedians and snarky Gen-X writers to finally expose truth, rather than just report what people say.

Some of my personal favorites in the post are #5: Let's Ask the Idiots About Science. And this statement from that section of the post rings the truest with me:

When it comes to matters of opinion or personal beliefs, it is absolutely the duty of the news media to report both sides...

When it comes to matters of fact, however, they absolutely do not have that duty. Particularly when it comes to technical or scientific matters where it takes somebody with training to speak knowledgably on the subject.

If we're talking about if, say, vaccines cause autism, we need to hear from scientists. That's a scientific issue. We do not need to hear from Jenny McCarthy or Jim fucking Carrey, in the name of giving "both sides." Jim and Jenny don't get a side. They have no background in the subject, and it's one that requires fucking background.
The MSM, in my mind, regularly confuses FACT with OPINION. Just because someone has something to say on a subject doesn't qualify them to say it, it doesn't mean it's true or even partially true, and it doesn't mean you have to report it, except that you might be ripping on it. As Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said: "you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts."

20 comments:

Streak 10:27 AM  

Wow, I can't agree more. Nothing is more frustrating than the suggestion that another opinion is equivalent, simply because it is different. Holocaust deniers are not part of the legitimate conversation about World War II. And I am increasingly annoyed at non-scientists who know nothing of either meteorology or biology somehow weighing in on evolution and climate change as if they have an equal voice. This is more, in my opinion, of blurring ways of knowing and using words like "believe" and "feel" when discussing issues that are factual and verifiable.

Smitty 10:49 AM  

And I am increasingly annoyed at non-scientists who know nothing of either meteorology or biology somehow weighing in on evolution and climate change

Like that dickhead George fucking Will from Newsweek?? Thanks for your OPINIONS on climate change, George. Now I'll go ask a fucking climatologist.

What worries me more is that the media plays into this whole weird distrust of smart people; the myth of the "college-educated idiot." That somehow, a scientist who devotes all their time to studying climate, climate change and the like can't be trusted because of their brains, but any good ol' boy can look out the fucking window and give you the straight skinny.

and using words like "believe" and "feel" when discussing issues that are factual and verifiable.

AAARRRGGGHH!!! You hit the nail on the head. That makes me want to vomit FURY when people say that.

Welcome to the blog, by the way!

Streak 10:51 AM  

Thanks. Steve has invited me here several times, and I honestly don't know what stopped me. It wasn't avoidance, but probably distracted-ness.

I am a homebrewer as well, so this is a great blog for me and am enjoying the conversation.

steves 11:17 AM  

Glad you are here Streak. I almost had a post on the vaccine issue and one of things I wanted to point out was that in trying to present both sides, it was obvious that one side had credible data, the other not so much.

I have no problem with presenting both sides of a scientific debate, and there certainly is room for legitimate disagreement on things like climate change, but let us stick with experts and people that are respected and published in this field, not pundits, celebs, and politicians. If you are not an expert, feel free to quote an expert, but stick with facts.

Smitty 11:22 AM  

If you are not an expert, feel free to quote an expert, but stick with facts.

That bears repeating!

I agree, steves, that even in the world of "fact" there is some divergence. But as you say, leave that to the people who find these facts.

We do a lot of stuff on this blog that I just bitched about, but we recognize that we are either quoting experts or expressing opinions.

Jay 11:40 AM  

If I can weigh in here for a moment...

Presenting both sides of a scientific issue is certainly acceptable IF (and it's a big if) there is some indication of the nuances of both sides of the argument. It is NOT helpful to present the "yes" and "no" sides of a scientific issue in which 99% of the scientific community are saying yes and 1% are saying "no" as if they are equivalent. The "no" statements are still useful to the science because there is always some aspect of any scientific argument that can be questioned. But 1 in a 100 scientists giving a nuanced "no" to some aspect of a theory DOES NOT MEAN that the theory is less robust or weaker. It just means that science is doing what science does: it sweats the details. Presenting the two arguments as an even debate on whether the theory is correct is incredibly fatuous and (I feel) not helpful to anyone.

Smitty 11:59 AM  

ut 1 in a 100 scientists giving a nuanced "no" to some aspect of a theory DOES NOT MEAN that the theory is less robust or weaker. It just means that science is doing what science does: it sweats the details.

Yes!! This is what I have been trying to say!

Mr Furious 3:06 PM  

In a related story (or non-story) the Sunday talk shows all thought an in-depth discussion on the departed White House Social Director was worth having, but Jim Fucking Bunning's single-handed denial of unemployment and COBRA benefits for tens of millions of people in the middle of a recession goes by the boards without a word.

Mr Furious 3:10 PM  

RE: Autism.

In partial defense of SOME people who were exorcised about this, there was a now-recently-debunked, but legitimate-at-the-time British medical study from The Lancet that kicked that whole thing off. That and plenty of seemingly convincing anecdotal evidence.

Not to discount the clearly emotionally charged component of people grasping for anything to explain the medical mystery unfolding with their children, and the completely hamhanded way it was handled here by Big Pharma and the AMA...

But, yeah—time to bury that "debate" and anyone trying to continue it.

Jay 3:37 PM  

Mr. Furious brings up something that is precisely my point. There was one (1!) study that suggested their might be a link between vaccinations and autism. That was weighed against a mountain of evidence before and after that study suggesting that there was no verifiable statistical or causal link. Yet until that study was debunked, the two opposing scientific results were considered equally plausible. This is what I mean by doing no good whatsoever, if science is presented in a fallacious manner.

I completely understand the emotional desire in parents of autistic children for an explanation. But if the science were portrayed in a reasonable fashion in the first place, there would not be a (disclaimer: this is my belief based on anecdotal reports...I do not have data to back this up) substantial number of children who were NOT vaccinated against real diseases because of an ultimately irrational fear of developing autism.

Jay 3:39 PM  

bugger...their = there

Sometimes I hate myself.

Heh...the verification word this time was "ammit"...that almost captures my feeling about their=there mental typos.

steves 3:52 PM  

There was also a major class action lawsuit by parents of autistic children. Despite the debunking, there are still a lot of parents that still refuse vaccinations. IIRC, the percentage has gone up quite a bit in the last few years.

Personally, the problem I have with any kind of scientific debate is that I am not a scientist. I took the full slate in high school, but not all that much in college. I need to rely on the expert opinions of others that I trust. I htink a lot of other people are in this boat. If someone tells me a particular study is bullshit, chances are I will have to rely on someone else's analysis, as many scientific/academic journals are hard for me to adequately interpret.

Mr Furious 4:08 PM  

And of course the media completely fanned the flames on the mercury/autism thing. Nothing gets viewers attention during CSI better than a direct threat to your childrens' safety... "Film at 11:00."

Consequently, that kind of "debate" or manufactured controversy is ratings gold, and they will milk it for everything they can.

Jay 4:09 PM  

Your point is valid, Steve, and I think I can go it one better. I am a freaking meteorologist and I will not claim to have enough knowledge of climate science to fully understand the nuances of the climate debate (I do not study climate, for just that reason). But I do understand the difference between the prevailing scientific theory on climate change and the necessary but, based on our current understanding of the science, less defensible oppositional viewpoint. Understanding that distinction does not require that one be a scientist at all. It just requires that one understand science and the scientific method. It is this understanding that is, I feel, absent from the vast majority of public science discourse on this and numerous other scientific topics.

Science is not about certainty. It never will be. One has to weigh the nuances. But we all know how effective the mainstream media (never mind public opinion) is at presenting nuanced information.

Streak 4:15 PM  

We have talked about this a lot at my blog, but the media discussion reminds me of how little ideology goes into our media--but a lot of preference toward what is easy to cover v. what is hard. Easy to cover scared parents convinced that immunizations cause autism (conspiracies are inherently easier as well), but harder to have cogent discussion about how this stuff is tested and what the actual evidence means. Easier to cover Jenny McCarthy than some nerd in a lab coat. Easier to cover the firing of the white house social secretary than discuss the actual implications of Bunning's obstruction.

I am also sympathetic to those untrained in science. That describes me as well. I am educating myself on evolution as we speak, and realizing just how little I understood about the argument (but heartened that most of what I understood was correct). But it does seem to me that a starting point has to be looking at those who actually study the field--not what some engineer says about evolution, or what a celebrity says about autism.

Great discussion, and I am impressed with the amount of fucking obscenities. How far away are we from forming the Beer Party USA?

:)

Streak 4:18 PM  

It just requires that one understand science and the scientific method.

How true is that. I teach US history and am always amazed at how many people assume a scientific theory is "just a guess." I always try to work that discussion in around the Scopes trial, btw.

Science is not about certainty. It never will be.

I am just reading Jerry Coyne's book on evolution and he said that exact thing. Zealots can assert absolute and unchanging Truth, but the rest of us understand that our explanations are subject to revision--when we get new information.

Smitty 4:39 PM  

but the rest of us understand that our explanations are subject to revision--when we get new information.

That's the beauty of science; it is self-correcting.

steves 7:57 PM  

Jay, that is the problem. You work in the "trenches", so to speak and have good access to the most up to date research and science. I am not trying to make an excuse, but to point out how starved most of us are for decent info, so quit giving us pundits, celebs, and other morons.

Great discussion, and I am impressed with the amount of fucking obscenities.

Profanity is the linguistic crutch of the inarticulate motherfucker. That being said, it works ; )

steves 8:00 PM  

Zealots can assert absolute and unchanging Truth, but the rest of us understand that our explanations are subject to revision--when we get new information.

True. Geology is one science that I know something about. I took several classes in college and my dad is a retired geology prof (as was my grandfather). When someone tries to argue the Earth is only 10,000 years old, I can't begin to fathom the level of obstinate ignorance that would be required to have that belief.

Smitty 9:12 PM  

I can't begin to fathom the level of obstinate ignorance that would be required to have that belief.

Oh my god I am using that phrase at least once a day from now on. That may be one of the best comments to appear on this blog. That sentence has it all.

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