If science is supposed to be apolitical, reporters and journal editors are not remembering their duty to stay neutral.
Gaffe watch: Live Science used the occasion of Todd Akin’s remark about rape, universally condemned by other Republicans and apologized for by Akin soon after he uttered it, to count other alleged scientific gaffes by politicians. Suspiciously, 4 out of the 5 in the list were gaffes by conservative Republicans: Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachmann, Christine O’Donnell and Tom Coburn. As if doing penance, reporter Stephanie Pappas added one by President Obama, but portrayed it as a waffle, not a gaffe; she quoted him saying “The science is not conclusive,” giving him a way out. Some of the Republican gaffes could be argued to be positions on legitimate scientific controversies, such as global warming. Pappas snuck in an added swipe by characterizing Santorum’s alleged gaffe as “one of his more memorable comments”. One would think she wouldn’t have to look far through Democrat VP Joe Biden’s numerous gaffes to find something to help balance the scales, and what about Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who thought the Mars Pathfinder Rover would be able to see the flag left by Apollo astronauts? Notably, bloopers by scientists, including those of Darwinians who frequently exaggerate claims far beyond the evidence, escape her notice: like this dandy printed uncritically on Nature News, “In-law infighting boosted evolution of menopause.”
Hark! The Republicans Are Coming: For Nature News, reporter Amy Maxmen headlined, “Republican Spending Plan Casts Shadow on Science.” Her focus was on Paul Ryan, Romney’s VP pick, as someone who wants to “limit the reach of government.” She wrote, “As chairman of the House of Representatives budget committee in the current Congress, Ryan has crafted a federal spending plan that contrasts sharply with that of President Barack Obama, whose budget requests have largely maintained science and technology funding as an economic investment.” Maxmen failed to mention that President Obama and Senate Democrats have brought the USA to the edge of a fiscal cliff that risks economic disaster for everyone, including scientists. Her article failed to mention which science taxpayers should be responsible to pay for, and also failed to mention sources of private funding available to scientists, such as foundations and industry.
Lionizing JFK and Obama: What’s this doing on a science site? That’s a question a reader might legitimately ask of an entry on PhysOrg about JFK’s influence on Obama. The question becomes stronger when one realizes it’s a review of a book by a non-scientist: “Researcher Greg Frame, from the University of Warwick’s Film and Television department, has explored how Obama, whose birthday is Saturday August 4, has shaped himself in Kennedy’s image.” Nothing negative is said about either Democratic president, even though commentators on both sides of the aisle this week are decrying Obama’s current presidential campaign as one of the dirtiest on record. Nothing was said about Obama’s deficit spending that has run up a national debt of $16 trillion, more than all prior presidents combined. Yet this is the image of JFK and Obama PhysOrg allowed Mr. Frame to project on their webspace: “leader, superhero, and subsequently father.” One will look in vain for any such pedestals for the likes of Ronald Reagan, let alone an announcement about his birthday.
Political correctness: When it comes to moral and cultural issues such as abortion or homosexuality, science news sites can be counted on to take the leftist line. In “Why Women Choose Abortions,” Live Science writer Jeanna Brynner ostensibly reported a survey about women’s reasons for killing their infants in the womb, giving ample time for them to describe why the thought of having a child added stress to their life. One of the “solutions” listed was “free birth control” without the important follow-up question, “at whose expense?” In another article on Live Science, Stephanie Pappas was all uptight about “Hateful Political Ads” against “Transgender People,” implying that conservatives have no justification to be concerned about gender-confused men entering women’s bathrooms or applying as daycare workers, calling these concerns “scare tactics.” Pappas gave complete free rein to Amy Stone, a sociologist, to talk about homosexual issues and gay marriage, but never asked for a balancing opinion from a conservative spokesperson from someone like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, whose offices were targeted by a gay activist with a gun recently.
A rare balance: One recent article on Science Daily showed exemplary non-partisanship. It was about a forecasting model at University of Colorado that predicts Romney will win the electoral college vote in the upcoming election. The Romney mention is not the balance at issue; it is the fact that the article steered clear of advocacy or partisanship, and simply stated the facts: if the same model that has been used since 1980 holds, the outcome will be as stated. Even so, it is not clear whether a paper published by the American Political Science Association belongs on a science news site.
No matter the issue, no matter the controversy, science news sites and leading journals can be counted on to take the leftist position. Democrats will be cast in a positive light, Republicans as villains. Articles are written by leftists to leftists. Sometimes, for instance, they appear aimed at helping fellow leftists convince conservatives of the wrongness of their position. On PhysOrg, for instance, a psychologist who runs a website attacking global warming skeptics was given the platform to instruct fellow leftists that coming across too strong can backfire, because conservatives (by implication) take comfort in their worldview and see science as a threat. But while he applied his psychological model to skeptics of anthropogenic global warming (usually conservatives), he avoided applying it to leftists confronted with facts threatening their Darwinian world view. The slant is always one way. Sometimes journal editors will feel they have done their job of balanced reporting by printing a letter to the editor complaining about their bias. They never think about avoiding the bias in the first place.
What to do? First of all, have a respect for facts, but differentiate between facts and opinions. Second, realize that most science reporting these days is coming through a leftist filter. Third, exercise discernment by noticing the bias and asking the questions the reporter is failing to ask. Fourth, complain to managers and sponsors of the politically biased sites. Fifth, support services like Creation-Evolution Headlines that point out the bias and boldly ask the questions the other reporters should be asking.