Monday, December 4, 2017

When Balance Is Unfair and Unreasonable

In Why a Lot of Important Research Is Not Being Done, Aaron Carroll presents a compelling case that industry groups and individual companies have been using the courts for decades as a tool to intimidate researchers whose findings threaten their revenue streams. His detailed examples of this chilling effect include the lead industry, gun manufacturers, surgeons who treat back pain, and manufacturers of dietary supplements.

But in a last paragraph nod to balance typical of pieces in the New York Times, Dr. Carroll notes that  "Lawsuits like these aren’t necessarily bound by ideology or partisan politics." citing the suit by Mark Jacobsen, has filed against "the National Academy of Sciences and the authors of a recent paper published in the academy’s journal, PNAS. The paper criticized Mr. Jacobson’s analyses that the United States could fully power itself with wind, water and solar energy. Many, including some identified as environmentalists, have criticized the lawsuit."

Now, in terms of simple logic, a single example of one "side" in contrast to many examples on the other "side", instead of supporting the proposition that "both sides do it" equally,  actually argues in favor of the proposition that both sides don't do it in equal measure. And, if it is worth mentioning at all, then the reader must wonder -
1) Is this just an example of a fragile ego prompting a lawsuit? Or,
2) Is there industry interference on one side (fossil fuels) or the other side (wind, solar, water)?

My own guess is that the boldness of Jacobsen's 100% renewables claim prompted healthy skepticism among academic researchers. But the Times article does not provide enough information for the reader to judge. And that's the problem. In the Times, the editor is biased in favor of any statement that suggests "balance" between two equal and opposite sides, which is accepted as a truism. Accepting balance in all situations regardless of the underlying facts without further examination meets the Times definition of objectivity.

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