October 3, 2009

FAIR AND BALANCED? Both Sides Of A What?

Fair and Balanced.  If you don’t quickly insert a counterclaim into your assertion, not only your claim, but you, our dear ad hominem Reader, will be shouted to pieces.

God help us if we aren’t Fair and Balanced. Nothing equals the trump power of the shrill accusation that a claim is not “fair and balanced” in sanctioning its contemptuous dismissal. Our paperwork will not be processed at all if it isn’t accompanied by the proper credential: an opposing “view.”

You, our dear Reader, know what we think of those who dismiss ideas because they are not “moderate” and “balanced” and “centrist.” And if you don’t, by gosh, you will find this essay to be well paired with our previous essay: http://www.takebackourlanguage.com/blog/2009/05/09/when-there-is-nothing-moderate-about-the-horrors-you-oppose-how-can-you-be-a-moderate/1559

Here’s how it goes. Our assertion can only be credible if we fairly present a balancing, opposing view. In fact- no observation can be valid if we do not supply its negation (in the space provided).

“Then there’s the problem of “balance” – the idea that reporters must give roughly equal space to two different “sides” of a controversy. When applied to science, especially in politicized areas, this media norm becomes extremely problematic. Should journalists really grant equal time to the small band of scientists who deny the causal relationship between HIV and AIDS when the vast majority of researchers accept the connection between the two? Should they split column space between the few remaining global warming “skeptics” and the scientific experts who affirm the phenomenon’s human causation? Again, experienced science journalists will know best how to cover such stories and will be aware of the scientific community’s very justifiable abhorrence of unthinking “balance.”

Chris Mooney & Sheril Kirschenbaum: “Unpopular Science”. The Nation (August 17, 2009 ed.). (Our emphasis.) http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090817/mooney_kirshenbaum

To be considered scientific, assertions are subject in principle to the possibility of disproof: that there is conceivable evidence that would contradict them. (We promise to supply later some proper citations of Stephen Popper and Thomas Kuhn).

The inversion of this is of particular value to thoughtful inquiry: that assertions for which there is no conceivable evidence that might disprove them are not regarded as “scientific.” This is useful: They are not  “disprovable ” (and hence not scientific). But this leads to an unfortunate shorthand reference: hence, scientific claims ARE “disprovable.” We think this shorthand is a linguistic mutilation and terribly unfortunate.

Popular usage has bastardized and perverted this. Anti-scientists seem to rely on an uncritical popular vulnerability to the idea that something can only be considered scientific if there is some evidence that contradicts it. Hence, a “thing” can only be regarded as credible -or “true”- if it is equally –and credibly- “untrue.” “Disprovable.” At will. Have been and will be disproved.

Theories. Let’s reclaim this word for ourselves so we can go back to using it in real, sober, reasoning deliberation. Overlooked in popular discourse is the condition that “scientific” theories (like evolution and climate change) that are regarded as credible -not to say “true”- do not have substantial evidence that contradicts them. They are not disproved.

Look at the injury this does not only to science, but also to public discourse (and language itself). Science, and very scientificness, are mangled and reduced to nonsensical rubble. By the way, the notional “the exception that proves the rule” is bullshit. Rules don’t have exceptions and exceptions don’t prove anything. Don’t get us started.

And who profits by this? Those who would hack away at intellectual honesty to advance ideological aims achieve this jaw-dropping perversity: nothing can claim to be “true” or valid or meaningful unless it stands there, proudly, with its arm around its own self-proclamation that it is untrue! Good god!

Science and the scientific are categorically defined as inherently contradictory and self-disproving. One cannot recruit a claim for scientific (or rational) validity for any assertion without suggesting that there is (equally scientific!) “evidence” to the contrary.

Thus- looky! we can discount, disdain and ridicule any scientific claim. Because it is… scientific. And we can dismiss science itself. Logic and rational discourse too. While we are at it. As ridiculous, naïve and stupidly self-contradictory. Woa!

That would be really perverse and insane, wouldn’t it? Any claim to truth is simultaneously and symmetrically a claim to untruth?  That, Reader, is what we have done.

Whatever else you, Reader, might do, don’t allow these people to fool you into allowing them to make claims based on “logic” or “reason” or “evidence,” or for god’s sake, “truth. They gave up claims to that kind of “truth” way too long ago for us to brook that bullshit. They have no claims to such things. We are more than justified, nay obligated, to shout them to pieces. We must save them from the embarrassment of their own screaming hypocrisy. Oh and, of course, you’ll agree that we must all applaud Bill Mahr’s film Religulous.

Please. Dismiss without evidence that which cannot be presented with evidence. Give no credence to the idea that these ideas or people operate within the realm of reason and proofs. They don’t, and it is a disservice to honest intellectual discourse to be fooled into responding. They attempt to make it look like the unfounded belief and the reasoned, supported argument have the same standing. They don’t.

By all means. Examine ideas rationally and with reason. Subject them to skepticism, contradiction, counterargument and disproof. Take seriously all ideas that claim to meaning, truth, validity, and mere usefulness. With intellectual integrity and honesty, feel free to discredit them. This our beloved search for meaning, and it is its own truth. This is the kind of truth we most admire.

But do not accept as “controversy” the shrill idiocies of extremists who challenge what we know. So many “things” are simply… uncontroversial. And so many are simply… true. Reject without argument assertions that an “opposing point of view” makes them controversial, or untrue… and vilify you, Reader, as not “fair and balanced.”

Dismiss, without reason, argument or recourse to sense, those who would deflect, dismiss and silence the obvious with refractory, schizoid and insane demands that you be “fair and balanced.”

Filed under: Blog: ESSAYS
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editor @ 10:12 pm


  1. Minor error: I think “Stephen Popper” should be replaced with “Karl Popper”.

    Good work 🙂

    Comment by ND — November 13, 2009 @ 4:22 pm

  2. By gosh, you are right. We have scratched our heads at long length and have finally remembered that Stephen Popper is a Pediatrician in our past. Thank you!

    Comment by editor — November 24, 2009 @ 11:24 pm

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