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Article of the week

26 Aug, 2019
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David Grimes presents an excellent discussion on the imbalance of “balanced”  reporting of evidence and perceptions of evidence – HL

A dangerous balancing act:  On matters of science, a well-meaning desire to present all views equally can be an Trojan horse for damaging falsehoods

By David Grimes      Published in EMBO reports 

In an era of increasingly polarised discourse, journalistic impartiality is a virtue that media outlets should strive to achieve in order to provide readers and viewers with unbiased, neutral information. In a hyper-partisan world, dedicated and balanced reporting is more vital than ever to cleave sound from fury, to help readers to make sense of conflicting narratives. But as laudable an aspiration as this is, overly rigid application can do more harm than good— and nowhere is this more obvious than on scientific topics.

Take, for example, climate change. The evidence for anthropogenic global warming is overwhelming. A wealth of data points to the same stark conclusion: our climate is rapidly changing, driven by human activity. This conclusion is not controversial among scientists; in fact, climate change denial is about as well-supported as the obsolete concepts of spontaneous generation or phlogiston theory. Yet, denialist positions were afforded roughly equal media coverage as the scientific consensus. This dichotomy tremendously skewed public perception. While scientists are virtually in agreement on the reality and causes of climate change, up until recently approximately almost all articles in prestige American media gave equal coverage to climate change denialists as they did to scientific consensus [1]….

A licence to scaremonger
Anti-vaccine activists have proven extraordinarily adept at exploiting false balance to evangelise their discredited views. The measles–mumps–rubella (MMR) vaccine controversy is an infamous illustration. In 1998, English gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield held a press conference about a paper he had published in the Lancet, speculating on a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. His evidence, however, was extraordinarily weak. Mainstream science and health writers noted such an explosive charge was poorly justified, and the story initially received scant attention. Anti-vaccine activists instead pitched it to non-specialist writers as a human interest story, imploring journalists without any scientific training to pontificate on the ostensible link between autism and the vaccine, and to report “both sides”….   Read full article here

This entry was posted on Monday, August 26th, 2019 at 8:37 am and is filed under Blog.

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Literature Literature archive

L. Tavoschi, F. Quattrone, E. De Vita, P.L. Lopalco 2019 Vaccine Volume 37(49): 7201-7288
Biswal . 2019 NEJM DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1903869
Piot P, Larson HJ, O'Brian KL, et al 2019 NATURE Vol. 575, pages119–129.
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