Why 'Balance' is Bias In the News

I know I have a go at journalists a lot on this thing - and this entry will be no different. But I did want to take a second to reflect on how much I do really admire some journalists. Particularly those on Slate and Salon and other publications of that nature. There are really very many people out there that do the real work on reporting on real issues in the public interest. Things that are not always fun to hear and will never get a lot of clickthroughs (unless the world sprouts a conscience for a moment and there's a trending hashtag) but they write them anyway. Because for the people that are listening, it is important. No matter how much you might say to the contrary, all the information you get (at some point or another) probably came from a journalist - and that is worth acknowledging. Some journalists write and present thoughtful, well researched content that is important for people to know. Some.

Now, in particular I want to address some of the not-so-good journalists out there with his comment: stop presenting unbalanced issues as balanced. The typical model for a news network - to avoid any personal responsibility for controversy - is to get one person for the topic and one person against. As though it were an Oxford Style Debate in order to get to the bottom of a complex and layered issue. The fact is that some issues are not complex and layered and the scientific consensus is in. Some things do not require debate because they are settled.

For example, global warming debates have been going on for literally decades now. Always on a news network there's a famous scientist and some shit-head climate change skeptic that basically finds new and fabulous ways of saying 'The science isn't in yet' over and over and over. The onus seems to be on the scientist to 'convince' the professional skeptic of the truth - something that would certainly be a conflict of interest for the professional talk-show skeptic. Then after watching this charade for precisely enough time to go to commercial again, the host sits back and says 'Well, thanks for coming in fellas. I guess we'll never solve it. We'll be right back after the break.' Everyone goes their separate ways and nothing is solved.

For the viewer, they're left with the impression that those two points of view are somehow equal - because they are presented as such. The untrained eye of the viewer reads that both the for and against positions are evenly matched - when the reality couldn't be further from the truth. Literally 97% of climate change papers that take a view on the topic, agree that man made climate change is real. There is a consensus - there is no debate left.

When 77% of Americans believe in angels (real-life fucking angels with wings and shit) and half of Americans aren't sure about this medicine thing, there are probably more pressing things the public needs to be educated on, but my (and Jon Oliver's) response to this is: who gives a shit?

John Oliver hosts a mathematically representative climate change debate, with the help of special guest Bill Nye the Science Guy, of course.

Like Neil Degrasse Tyson says "They brilliant thing about science is it exists whether you believe in it or not." Who cares whether these people agree or not? Apparently a quarter of people are still skeptical about man-made climate change. As if their opinion makes a difference. Some people believe that there are lizards running the government - are we going to wait to convince them there aren't before we have elections? No, we get on with it. Things are at stake.

More doctors have issues believing in cancer than scientists who deny climate change so it's time the news sacked up and stopped presenting issues as 'balanced' when they're complete bullshit. You job is to be a presenter of the facts, do some research, find the facts and stand behind them. Don't make Bill Nye do all the heavy lifting for you so you can retain some plausible deniability. You're a journalist, do journalism.

If we wait for 100% consensus from the public before we act we'll be waiting for an awful long time. You'll never get 100% consensus on anything - some people are stupid and they have stupid opinions. Not 100% of people are going to do the research. Not 100% of people are rational, sane, logical, thoughtful people. Some people are fuckwits and will always be fuckwits that have fuckwit opinions. Some people thought Cameron Diaz, Kate Upton and Niki Minaj could all act and cast them in a fucking movie. Some people are just wrong about things. If you have a poll 'Are good things good?' you will still not get a 100% consensus on that. Move on. The only debate left about climate change is: what should we do about it?

Do not present things that are not equal, equally. Do not hide between the idea of 'balance' because all it is encouraging is bias. Get it together journalism.

To follow all of Jorge's incredibly rational and balanced commentary, follow him on twitter @JorgeTsipos and listen to his very objective podcast Unnatural Selection with your ears.