Saturday, May 13, 2006

A Few Pet Peeves

There is a technique of biased reporting that I hear now and then that really gets my ire. It is the practice of a reporter ending his or her report with the phrase "But there's no guaranty this (or it) will be easy (or *a piece of cake* or *a snap* or some such).

I have heard this at the end of several reports on the war on terror. One was just before the Nov. 04 presidential election. A reporter was doing a story on the increase in suicide bombings during the build up to the election. He ended his piece with something like "The Bush administration (or coalition) is trying to maintain order but there's no guaranty this will by easy." I'm going on memory here.

So the reporter is trying to get his listeners to believe that the administration thinks restoring order will be easy and are looking for guarantees of same. Naturally, in the mind of anyone goofy enough to believe this tripe, there will be projected the image of an administration that is irrational, foolish, and incompetent in the extreme and
that is what that sentence is designed to accomplish.

I have been tempted to put a footer at the end of each post saying something like:
"Ever since the Jason Blair (or Janet Cooke) incident, the New York Times (or Wapo) has been trying to put forth an honest reporting staff, but there's no guarantee this will be easy." Heh, I get pleasure from such thoughts.

Another peeve I have is when reportors cover a science event or press release and refer to certain scientists as "reputable scientists." This is a head shaker for me.
I mean, no reporter in his right mind is going to quote "disreputable scientists," at least not yet. It is assumed by most normally rational people that if you're going to quote a scientist, he will be a reputable one.

Now there is nothing wrong with citing a scientist's actual credentials. Knowing that a scientist is a phd or holds a chair or other such credentials can be helpful. But such knowledge is not the purpose of that adjective.

Reputable means having a reputation which means there are a number of other people who think said scientist is right which means "consensus." The use of the term "reputable scientists" is designed to smuggle into the minds of readers the notion that truth is determined by consensus. The reporter is saying in essence: "Lots of others think he's right, and because of that, you should too."
In other words, don't concern yourself with the facts, go along with the consensus.

One more. The issue of credentials. There are a lot of scientists and reporters who think that a person's credentials alone should be ample evidence of truth. Not so.
I have seen professors on tv talk shows, and reporters too, waving credentials around and indulging in what I call a "My credentials can beat up your credentials" contest. It is saddening to witness such intellectual deterioration.

I've always believed that a person's credentials mean he or she should be listened to. They do not mean he should be believed. Belief depends strictly on the merits of the person's arguements, not on his credentials.

No comments: