Science Reporters Don't Even Try to Be Politically Neutral
More evidence that when politics and ethics are in the news, science reporters will inevitably gravitate to the far-left position.
Scientists for barbarism: What could be more outrageous in recent news than Planned Parenthood’s selling baby body parts for profit? The videos from the Center for Medical Progress (five so far) have shocked the nation, prompting many Congresspersons (not just Republicans) to call for immediate defunding of the nation’s leading abortion provider. In the latest video (see Townhall.com), Holly O’Donnell recounts how she was forced to harvest baby parts, even without consent forms, and was encouraged to pressure women to get abortions.
One might think that science reporters would be very cautious in their coverage, avoiding any appearance of support for Planned Parenthood. The reality is far from it. Medical Xpress printed a headline, “Scientists say fetal tissue essential for medical research.” The article attempts to rationalize the practice by touting alleged progress with vaccines and studies that “eventually will provide a benefit to society,” but makes no attempt to explore whether alternatives exist, or explain how medicine progressed before abortions became legal. It’s not just the reporter. Leading scientists from MIT, Stanford and the NIH are quoted arguing for continuance of fetal tissue availability.
At The Conversation, Simon Woods at least calls for more openness on the practice. “There ought to be a wider and more informed debate about the use of all human tissue in research, because a lack of transparency will only stand in the way of proper ethical reflection on the practices that underpin such important aims as medical research,” he says. But this is after his laundry list of benefits coming from fetal tissue research. In an astonishing lack of understanding, he equates babies with their parts: “But human tissue is already involved in many commercial transactions of one kind or another, such as sale of blood and tissue products to healthcare services.” Doesn’t he know that he himself is more than his liver? Woods treats the scandal as just the latest tempest in a teapot over a history of uproars among anti-abortionists.
The leftist slant is clear also on another Medical Xpress article about the videos. Who is upset? It’s only “anti-abortion activists” and “the religious right.” Hillary Clinton could hardly have phrased it differently. Elizabeth Warren is given a prominent quote after conservatives are pictured unflatteringly. Attempting to look objective, the article mentions prominent Republicans and Democrats, but portrays the controversy only as a “revived debate” and the latest “storm” that will likely pass.
To many, the most critical international decision of our time is the deal with Iran about nuclear weapons development. Conservatives have been outspoken over the momentous negative consequences of this deal (e.g., Dennis Prager’s video #1 and video #2), likening it to the 1930’s appeasement of Hitler, if not worse—paving a path for another holocaust. You would never know that if all you read was Science Magazine‘s exclusive interview with Iran’s atomic czar, Ali Akbar Salehi. Interviewer Richard Stone asks softball questions, allowing Salehi to portray the deal as pro-science, all congeniality and destined to promote world peace. It would be hard to imagine Science Magazine giving Christian theology good press, but here’s how Stone ends the interview, with no hard follow-up whatsoever:
Q: AEOI went through some very dark days a few years ago, when five nuclear scientists were assassinated.
A: Let me tell you about one, Masoud Alimohammadi. Twenty-five years ago, when I was president of Sharif University [of Technology], we started the first Ph.D. program in Iran, in physics. Alimohammadi was the first Ph.D. student.
Q: Do their deaths cast a shadow on international collaboration? I mean, will your scientists feel nervous about working with counterparts from overseas?
A: No. We have a very peculiar characteristic of our nation. Being Muslims, we are ready for any kind of destiny because we do not look upon it like you have lost your life. OK, but you have gained martyrdom and we believe in eternity.
For our people, it’s easy to absorb such things. I mean, this did not really turn into an impediment to our nuclear activities. In fact, it gave an impetus to the field, in the sense that after [the assassinations], many students who were studying in other fields changed to nuclear science.
Q: The assassinations were inspiring?
A: Yes. They thought they would terrorize the scientific community in Iran. By threatening us, we will step back from that path—but we did not.
Q: What do you want to be remembered for?
A: As a person who did good for mankind. That’s it.
Science Daily committed a whopper of a half-truth when it promoted leftist talking points on immigration, using European psychologist Jonas Kunst from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology as its expert voice. Here’s the ending paragraph; what’s missing?
To encourage acceptance and support of immigrants, government programs or non-profit organizations could highlight the fact that the United States is a nation of immigrants, Kunst said. People may be less prejudiced against immigrants if they remember that their own ancestors were immigrants as well.
The statement is true as given, but it’s missing a key word: “legal”. That word appears nowhere in the article. Omitting that concept gives the impression that anyone who opposes illegal immigration is prejudiced when, in fact, most conservatives are all for legal immigration. It’s the flood of people breaking America’s laws to enter they are against. This article makes no pretense of trying to be objective. Either you welcome everybody in with no controls at all, or you are prejudiced. On top of that, the use of a leftist “expert” puts a false veneer of “science” on one of the pressing issues facing America and the world.
It’s hard to know how to justify scientifically another piece in Science Daily titled, “High participation in small church groups has its downside, research shows.” This claim comes from academics at Clemson & Louisiana State who “found” that the more people join small church groups, the less they are involved in “civic activities.” But what are civic activities? Isn’t church a civic activity, leading people to pray for one another and help one another? No; “civic activities” are defined in such a way as to bias the conclusion leftward.
For instance, look at the contrast drawn by Clemson sociologist Andrew Whitehead: “The dense social networks and strong bonds created within congregations with high overall small-group participation can actually serve to isolate congregants from the needs of those outside the religious group, leading to lower levels of civic engagement.” This sentence creates a false dichotomy. People are people, whether they are inside a group or outside of it; if church people are helping those in their group, they are helping people—period. That’s a form of civic engagement. What are they supposed to do, join ACORN and become community organizers? Why didn’t Whitehead and his peers investigate this “downside” among NGO’s, atheist groups and the Sierra Club?
Whitehead seems concerned that church people in small groups tend to donate primarily to their church. But if the church is providing a positive good for a community, why is that distinguished from “civic engagement”? Most churches are welcoming to their communities. Churches and religious organizations arguably perform far more charitable work than secular nonprofits or government programs. Whitehead seems to acknowledge this:
Clemson researcher Andrew Whitehead, an assistant professor of sociology, and co-author Samuel Stroope of Louisiana State University, said small-group participants who are active in prayer, discussion or Bible study groups are far more likely to be engaged in civic service activities, volunteering, financial giving and advocacy than their fellow communicants.
However, in churches with high levels of group participation, these parishioners are almost two times less likely to donate money to charities other than the church.
Why is this a problem? He just said that the devout, Bible-studying small group participants outperform pew packers in civic service activities, such as volunteering, giving and advocacy. Logically, then, it makes sense to support the church where the most good is being done to the most people.
To be objective, these sociologists could have concluded that governments should provide more support and encouragement to churches, where the real civic work is getting done—and done better—than in government programs and non-church organizations (although exceptions can always be found). But by characterizing church small groups as “other” than civic, the secular “researchers” (code for objective scientists) create the impression that the good performers—members of small church groups—are not doing their civic duty. To him, this is a “downside” of church involvement. That’s a moral judgment beyond the bounds of science.
Wikipedia reigns. It’s the world’s most popular online encyclopedia, the sixth most visited website in America, and a research source most U.S. students rely on. But, according to a paper published today in the journal PLOS ONE, Wikipedia entries on politically controversial scientific topics can be unreliable due to information sabotage.
Cases in point are: global warming, evolution, and acid rain—with evolution being the most pronounced: “While the edit rate of the acid rain article was less than the edit rate of the evolution and global warming articles, it was significantly higher than the non-controversial topics,” the article says. “Across the board, politically controversial scientific topics were edited more heavily and viewed more often.”
Applying empirical modesty, the only scientific conclusion to be drawn is that controversial topics get more edits. Period. This should not be surprising; controversial topics generate lots of talk and activity wherever they come up. However, the paper and Science Daily article imply non-scientific value judgments from the findings: (1) “reliable” information comes from the scientific consensus and Big Science enterprises; (2) edits to what the consensus says constitutes “sabotage” (a loaded word).
That sabotage occurs is also not surprising; Wikipedia has algorithms that exclude profanity, for instance. But sabotage can be inflicted by the majority, too. Several proponents of intelligent design have tried repeatedly to correct falsehoods made about them on Wikipedia, but the moment they edit the falsehood, some faceless watchdog puts the lie back in. This creates a situation where a highly-trusted website can damage an honest person’s reputation, allowing him no recourse. Some have complained to Wikipedia but to no avail. There could be cases where a creationist with a PhD in biology tries to correct misinformation about Darwin’s finches or Haeckel’s embryos, but is trumped by a fast dorm student in his underwear who has a personal agenda to protect Darwinism from all appearance of weakness. For controversial topics, therefore, Wikipedia can be a source of misinformation. We can all agree, though, with the authors’ conclusions that Wikipedia is a mixed bag:
So what should be done? In the future, it may be possible to automatically identify and flag pages with significant controversy and quantify user reputation, both of which could be made visible to help readers critically evaluate the content of a page. For now, however, these results reinforce the position that Wikipedia should not be used in academic citations without very careful consideration and scrutiny. Wikipedia acknowledges this and reports that, “while some articles are of the highest quality of scholarship, others are admittedly complete rubbish.” Furthermore, Wikipedia’s policy on academic use is clear that “Wikipedia is not considered a credible or authoritative source … any encyclopedia is a starting point for research, not an ending point.” What is needed is a wider appreciation of how to best leverage the vast quantity of information in Wikipedia to take advantage of its strengths (vast coverage and frequent updates) and avoid its weaknesses (potential for errors, conflict between editors, and content stability). Users should be aware that content in Wikipedia can be extremely dynamic; two students could obtain, within seconds, diametrically different information on a controversial scientific topic. Educators should ensure that students understand the limitations and appropriate uses of Wikipedia, especially for controversial scientific issues.
Darwinizing the Right
The most egregious example of media bias appears when science reporters portray their political opponents as less evolved. For example, Hanae Armitage used Science Magazine‘s clout to write that “Voting bias taps into ‘caveman’ instincts.” She refers specifically to Republicans following Donald Trump:
People with low-pitched voices have higher testosterone levels, which also correlate to bulkier muscles and more aggressive behavior—attractive qualities in prehistoric leaders…. Donald Trump, for one, might not be leading in recent polls because of his off-the-charts testosterone levels and physical prowess, but because he knows how to pump up the bass.
Scientifically, that hypothesis should cut both ways: any bass-speaking Democrat should out-compete small females with high-pitched voices in political contests. Not only is this demonstrably false, it undermines the whole basis of democracy, that people should be able to vote on matters of principle, not be pawns of “caveman instincts”. Even some evolutionists deny that instincts that far back have any bearing on human behavior today.
Another article on PhysOrg that argues that genes can make us liberal or conservative. The claim is justified on Darwinian grounds: “From an evolutionary standpoint, risk-taking is a complicated business: in some situations, it may enhance one’s chances of success or survival, and in others it may spell doom.” Since this claim also undermines the ability of humans to think rationally, it undermines itself as well. It might serve, though, as a contender for the next BAH! Festival.
Is the Big Science’s political bias undermining its street cred? “The future of science will soon be upon us,” Nature says, urging adoption of “Science 2.0,” a set of goals even scientists were skeptical of last year. It appears to be a program geared to get more political funding. If scientists are perceived as another special-interest group clamoring at the public till, what are taxpayers to think? Distrust is especially worrisome with PhysOrg reporting that “Vanity and predatory academic publishers are corrupting the pursuit of knowledge.” Exploitation, predatory practices, and personal ambition, Michael J. I. Brown says, are wreaking havoc with science’s reputation. Two scientists (Ravetz and Saltelli) wrote Nature this week with the opinion that Big Science is on the verge of collapse, because its institutions are harming the aspirations of honest researchers. Their letter bears repeating:
The challenges of maintaining trust in science (see Nature 522, 6; 2015) can be understood in terms of corrupting pressures that make it harder for scientists to do the good work to which many aspire.
The sheer scale of science today is destroying colleague communities; it also demands ‘objective’ metrics of quality, which are perverse and corruptible. These effects are compounded by imported commercial pressures. The idealism that motivated ‘little science’ is no longer plausible.
Maintaining the public’s trust in science calls for an urgent evaluation of its imperfections and vulnerabilities. We must identify what needs to be unlearned in the prevalent understanding of science: for example, we now know that any science-related policy problem poses more questions and solutions than can be derived from the illusory precision of models and indicators (a factor in the 2008 financial crisis).
Social-media channels are starting to teach the public more about new views of science. The growth of ‘DIY science’, which owes only minimal deference to established institutions, will eventually influence science education, and to good effect. In much the same spirit as citizen science has developed in parallel with established science, a movement of scientifically aware citizens could emerge within science. These citizens would develop an understanding of the connection between science’s internal problems, such as morale and quality assurance, and external pressures of the sort we describe.
This letter makes it clear that “big science” or “institutional science” is not objective. It is fraught with imperfections and vulnerabilities. It is so off track, they say, that the public needs to “unlearn” its prevalent understanding of what science is and what it is capable of. They seem to cast a wistful eye at the good old days of Boyle, Joule, and Mendel. If the days of ‘little science’ are forever gone, at least “scientifically aware citizens” can educate the public about these internal problems and influence science education.
Welcome to Creation-Evolution Headlines. Thanks for the endorsement.
We respect and appreciate individual scientists who do their best to advance knowledge. If you are one of them, you need to realize that the institutions that claim to represent “Science” have abandoned the ideals of science. Big Science has followed the downward slide of other institutions from their once noble goals. It has become another leftist power station, like Big Labor, Big Law, Big Hollywood, Big Academia and Big Media. Why? Follow the money. Each of these wants Big Government. That’s a leftist goal. Conservatives stress individual freedom and responsibility, small government, and self-determination. Leftists are also overwhelmingly secular in outlook, depending on Darwin for a pseudo-scientific rationale for their position. Doing science from an “evolutionary standpoint” is self-refuting (a “standpoint” on quicksand). It’s time to call the bluff on these Big Left institutions, including Big Science. With “only minimal deference to established institutions,” it’s time to promote “DIY Science,” “citizen science” and “understanding,” that Ravetz and Saltelli admire.
Maybe CEH can be counted among the “Social-media channels [that] are starting to teach the public more about new views of science.” What’s new here, though, is old. It’s the old honest pursuit of the truth, following the evidence where it leads, standing on the solid ground of rationality that proceeds from a Rational origin.