Opinions do not necessarily deserve equal balance in science journalism.
The NZ Skeptics plan to scrutinise the concept of balance in science journalism at their upcoming conference, arguing that misinformed or mistaken opinions do not provide a healthy or informative balance in many areas of apparent controversy.
“Balance in journalism is important, especially when dealing with opinions such as those in the political arena,” says Gold, the society’s Chair-entity. “But it can be detrimental when reporting about science, where people with an interest in the subject, but no qualifications or training, are asked for their opinion and treated with the same respect and seriousness as someone who has intensively studied the subject and is familiar with the science.”
For the most part journalists get it right, Gold acknowledges. “You don’t see a member of the Flat Earth Society being asked to provide balance to stories about the latest activity on the International Space Station.”
What concerns the Society is where “balance” is sought in areas such as vaccination or climate change, where journalists will treat fringe opinions with the same regard as well-researched facts.
“This is a disservice to the public as the disproportionate attention paid to people involved in areas of manufactured controversy only serves to cloud issues, sometimes in a highly dangerous fashion.”
These issues will form the basis of the talks, panels and workshops at this year’s NZ Skeptics Conference (Victoria University, 6-8 Sept). From psychology, biology and astronomy, to global warming, creationism and vaccine denialism, all sessions will tie back to the main theme of science communication.
This year will also see New Zealand’s first SkeptiCamp, held on the evening of Friday the 6th of September. While still a part of the main conference, this event will be open to the public at no charge. A SkeptiCamp is an “unconference” with no set topic (other than skepticism) where speakers are chosen on the night by those at the event. If you want to speak, you will be welcome to participate.
The conference is open to the general public. Keep watching the website at http://conference.skeptics.org.nz for speaker updates, booking information and fringe events.