Many environmental issues rest crucially on science, so it’s unfortunate that so much mainstream scientific journalism sucks. It sucks for much the same reason that so much mainstream political journalism sucks: the quest for “balance,” regardless of where the truth lies. Chris Mooney, the go-to guy for writing on the overlap of science and policy, has a longish piece in Columbia Journalism Review on just this issue, and it’s a must-read.Mooney gives special attention to global warming, where the problem is particularly acute.
“There’s a very small set of people” who question the consensus, says Science‘s executive editor-in-chief, Donald Kennedy. “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 one commentator from side A and one commentator from side B. I call it the two-card Rolodex problem.”
Mooney’s piece has a pretty comprehensive roundup of this kind of nonsense, along with a good dose of history. Read it.