We Report, You Deride

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Can a newspaper story be too balanced? Former Reason chief Virginia Postrel makes a good case that the answer is "yes," citing a fastidiously objective and inadvertantly hilarious article on evolution to make her point.

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  1. Joe-

    It’s also not nescessarily an “either/or” proposition. Punctuated Equilibrium splits the difference, and there’s some good evidence for it-slow (natural selection) speciation, until a catastrophe occurs. That creates massive selection pressure which drives the inefficient extinct. This opens up formerly filled niches, and could precipitate the speciation explosion we see after each of the pre-historic great extinctions. If the upheavals were to separate breeding populations, you could have a new species in a scant dozen generations or so.

    Of course, that has implications for E.O. Wilson and others concerned about vanishing biodiversity, but those are far beyond the scope of this post…

  2. The point is not that creationism is bunk (duh) – the point is that journalists often include (and thereby endorse) ridiculous/inane positions to “balance” a story. This evokes a question more interesting than beating the dead horse of creationism. Specifically: Should journalists always strive for the (perhaps unattainable ideal of) objectivity (meaning: bias-free reports) even when the bias in question is the reporter’s bias against utter stupidity?

  3. “Fair and balanced” really means appearing to be more stupid than you really are. Most mainstream news stories are simply reports of what “both sides” said, with absolutely no independent digging into what the background facts are. After all, if the reporter included an independent source of information to indicate which “side” was telling the truth, that would be compromising his “neutrality.” So the average news story comes across as credulous and gullible in taking obvious falsehoods at face value. Ultimately, this leads to foreign correspondents writing stories from government handouts in a capital city hotel room, and with 60% of newspaper column inches being taken up by material generated in government/corporate PR departments.

    The “both sides” paradigm is also useless in examining the presuppositions that “both sides” share, such as the 80% of issues that both American major parties agree on (GATT, NAFTA, “intellectual property,” the Federal Reserve, and most of the framework of state capitalism).

    Screw “both sides.” The Socratic method is a much better way of getting at the truth. You can get a much better picture of what was going on in the nineteenth century by reading stories in the party press, in which frankly partisan journalists made the best possible case for their own interpretations of events, and then defended themselves against cross-examination from the OTHER side.

  4. My experience is that very few people truly understand evolution. Those who think complexity can’t arise from a few simply rules should play Conway’s game of life.

    It just goes to show that different people have different views on what is “fair and balanced.”

  5. Fair-and-Balanced boy: Do not try and be fair and balanced. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.

    Neo: What truth?

    Fair-and-Balanced boy: There is no fair and balanced.

    Neo: There is no fair and balanced?

    Fair-and-Balanced boy: Then you’ll see, others are not capable of thinking rationally, only yourself.

  6. Re: The ID theory postulated by the math professor-

    Bassackwards… The red flag in his comments is when he uses metaphor to equate complex biological systems with machines (a common, insidious metaphor). He appears to have given primacy to the machines, even though the life forms pre-date them by a couple billion years.

    The rub? His metaphor implies correlation, but he projects causation. He assumes the arrow of causality runs from the designer to the designed, without noting the theory that evolution may have created designers in the first place. Instead of a creator designing humanity, which designs machines- Humans evolve by natural selection, creating technology that evolves by natural selection. Not making a specific claim, but I did want to note that the arrow runs both ways..

    Case in point- the 8-track tape, (evolved from existing tech, outcompeted, extinct).

  7. The core of the problem is that the need toassign a purpose to it all, even to evolution. There is always the unstated premise (even amongst some Darwinists) that evolution is going somewhere better.

    If you remove this premise, then it is easier to deal with the bogus science of the intelligent design/creatinist crowd.

  8. Mike Fair has been a source of embarassment for those of us in South Carolina for years. He vaulted to the top of the kook hit parade back in the 80’s, where he managed to finagle a ban on overnight visitation in the dorms at the state’s colleges. Y’know, so dem unmarrieds won’t be fornicatin!. That lasted a semester or two before it was reversed out of fear that the state would become even more of a laughing stock.

    Whenever stupid legislation of the right wing variety pops up here in the Palmetto State, you can be sure that Fair is somehow involved. Some of his other pet causes have included banning dancing on state university campusus, banning rock concerts at public venues in the state, and creating a big ol’ unborn fetus memorial on the grounds of our state capitol. Compared to Fair, Rick Santorum would be considered a “serious thinking man”.

  9. Why does the exploitation of journalism’s desire to be balanced by bad faith actors seem to always come from Republicans? “Depending on how it’s calculated, the Bush tax cut gives…” “Other scientists posit a theory called Intelligent Design…” “The evidence that smoking causes cancer is questioned in some articles…” “Others say the evidence of the Greenhouse Effect is unclear…”

    Liberal media=refusal to pretend right wing lies are true.

  10. Some of these Christians can’t seem to tell the difference between speciation via natural selection (sometimes called evolution), here’s an explanation I would like to see taught, according to native tribes of the Pacific Northwest.

    The origin of life:

    The world was in darkness until Raven came. He found humans living in darkness inside a clam shell. Raven showed pity for the naked people he found, and used his shape shifting skills. He turned himself into a baby boy and tricked the Sky Chief into letting the sun out of a box. By “stealing the sun”, Raven gave the sun to people, and that is why people always feed Raven. Raven brought people the essentials for existence in a harsh world – game and fish and fowl, fire, clothing, shelter – and with them the rituals that would protect them from the dark spirits lurking about.

  11. The problem with the ID theory is that the intelligent designer isn’t just irreducibly complex, it’s irreducibly SUPER complex. Therefore it necessitates a SUPER intelligent designer. I call this the super intelligent design theory (SID). You can read more about it in my upcoming book Behe’s Black Box.

  12. I missed the point I was trying to make:

    evolution doesn’t explain the origin of life. It explains how different species arise from a common ancestor, a phenomenon that has been observed and inferred.

    How life actually got on the planet Earth is open to speculation.

  13. OK, fine, I’ll post about evolution. Plinking Natural Selection doesn’t refute the theory of evolution; NS is only one mechanism that could have fueld evolution. Radical, sudden change is another.

  14. You mean, I wasn’t created from a man’s rib?

  15. >> The 8-track tape — evolved from existing tech, outcompeted, extinct.

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