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title: 'Balance? We don’t need no stinkin' balance'
published: true
date: '13-07-2006 06:49'
        - blog
        - General
    enabled: '1'
subhead: " "
header_image: '0'

My [recent post]( about Jim Hansen’s [article on climate change]( in the New York Review of Books was not the piece I set out to write. I had intended to focus on this part of his article:

> I used to spread the blame uniformly until, when I was about to appear on public television, the producer informed me that the program “must” also include a “contrarian” who would take issue with claims of global warming. Presenting such a view, he told me, was a common practice in commercial television as well as radio and newspapers. Supporters of public TV or advertisers, with their own special interests, require “balance” as a price for their continued financial support.

Hansen points out that “the public is understandably confused or uninterested”. And he skewers one reason: editorial control.

I grew up in a country where it remains a badge of honour to admit that one “can’t do sums for toffee”. Where such people, who really have a very tenuous grasp on reality, like the cute one-letter difference between a million and a billion, are indeed running the country. Where ignorance is bliss.

Politicians, of course, will always be subject to special interests. But editors? I know very few in mainstream print or broadcast who have even the slightest knowledge of what science is or how it works. The science writers and journalists, in their ghetto, do. Or did. But to get out of the ghetto the specialists have to persuade someone who lacks the ability to make a sound decision, even a wrong one. And who therefor falls back on “balance”.

Get a contrary view. Give it equal weight. Let the people decide.


The people don’t want to decide. That’s why they elect self-serving politicians and that’s why they read celebrity pablum. They like to watch a good pissing match. They see two talking heads, annointed by The Media, and they figure, “well, this is queer alright, they can’t seem to agree, I’ll just ignore it.”

I’m not banging a drum for conformism, far from it. I like a good scientific argy-bargy as much as the next person. But if one side is represented by a lunatic on a soap-box, that’s an unfair fight, handicapping possible truth with certain nonsense. There is a solution, one that involves self-denial and sacrifice.

Just say no.

Next time you are asked to engage with a fringe notion simply in order to cover a lame-brain editor’s arse, refuse. Of course the fringe notion will take this as proof of its correctness, and although it will have no impact on this delusion, you should explain your reasons, not necessarily on air or in print, but, say, on a blog.

When I worked on a weekly science news magazine we had a regular chortle session over the nut letters, which our brief fortunately gave us a mandate to ignore. There was the green ink, a dead give away, and the random underlining, another certain symptom. And there was always the greatest justification ever, echoes of which I still hear today.

They laughed at Galileo, and Galileo was right!
They’re laughing at me.
Therefor ...

Seriously, next time you see a “debate” in The Media, stop for a moment and consider whether the two “sides” actually represent similarly weighted factions. The ferventness of one’s belief in something is not a measure of that thing’s veracity. If the IDiots were given time in proportion to their [ability to muster informed support](,com_mospetition/Itemid,506/), we would hear barely a peep from them.

P.s. Spooky. After writing this, I received an email drawing my attention to an [article]( in the Pasadena Star News, reporting a debate among experts, including Jim Hansen, gathered to “discuss global warming's significance for humanity” in the context of a new programme on the Weather Channel. One of the participants, the science writer Andrew Revkin (of the NYT), reassured listeners that the effect could take centuries to materialize. Unfortunately the article does not say what, if anything, Jim Hansen said in response.
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