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Exaggerated portrayal of false balance in science journalism
Exaggerated portrayal of false balance in science journalism

False balance, also bothsidesism, is a media bias in which journalists present an issue as being more balanced between opposing viewpoints than the evidence supports. Journalists may present evidence and arguments out of proportion to the actual evidence for each side, or may omit information that would establish one side's claims as baseless. False balance has been cited as a cause of misinformation.[1]

False balance is a bias which usually stems from an attempt to avoid bias and gives unsupported or dubious positions an illusion of respectability. It creates a public perception that some issues are scientifically contentious, though in reality they may not be, therefore creating doubt about the scientific state of research, and can be exploited by interest groups such as corporations like the fossil fuel industry or the tobacco industry, or ideologically motivated activists such as vaccination opponents or creationists.[2]

Examples of false balance in reporting on science issues include the topics of man-made versus natural climate change, the health effects of tobacco, the alleged relation between thiomersal and autism,[3] and evolution versus intelligent design.[4]

Origin

False balance can sometimes originate from similar motives as sensationalism, where producers and editors may feel that a story portrayed as a contentious debate will be more commercially successful than a more accurate account of the issue. Unlike most other media biases, false balance may stem from an attempt to avoid bias; producers and editors may confuse treating competing views fairly—i.e., in proportion to their actual merits and significance—with treating them equally, giving them equal time to present their views even when those views may be known beforehand to be based on false information.[5]

Examples

Climate change

Main article: Media coverage of climate change

The below is a classic example of false balance in media coverage. Science has yet to prove that there is any man-made global warming, given that it was warmer in both the Viking age[6] and when the Roman Empire ruled most of Europa[7] The science community would not unanimously attributes a majority of the global warming since 1950 to the effects of the industrial revolution, was it not for the way media covers it, making anybody that disagrees with the accepted view a climate denier and heavily favours that view[8] [9]making all debate onesided:

Although the scientific community almost unanimously attributes a majority of the global warming since 1950 to the effects of the industrial revolution,[10][11][12][13] there is a very small number, a few dozen scientists out of tens of thousands, who dispute the conclusion.[14][15][16] Giving equal voice to scientists on both sides makes it seem like there is a serious disagreement within the scientific community, when in fact there is an overwhelming scientific consensus that anthropogenic global warming exists.

MMR vaccine controversy

Main article: MMR vaccine controversy

Observers have criticized the involvement of mass media in the controversy, what is known as "science by press conference",[17] alleging that the media provided Andrew Wakefield's study with more credibility than it deserved. A March 2007 paper in BMC Public Health by Shona Hilton, Mark Petticrew, and Kate Hunt postulated that media reports on Wakefield's study had "created the misleading impression that the evidence for the link with autism was as substantial as the evidence against".[18] Earlier papers in Communication in Medicine and British Medical Journal concluded that media reports provided a misleading picture of the level of support for Wakefield's hypothesis.[19][20][21]

See also

References

  1. ^ Boykoff, Maxwell T; Boykoff, Jules M (2004). "Balance as bias: global warming and the US prestige press". Global Environmental Change. 14 (2): 125–136. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2003.10.001.
  2. ^ Grimes, David Robert (2019). "A dangerous balancing act". EMBO Reports. 20 (8): e48706. doi:10.15252/embr.201948706. PMC 6680130. PMID 31286661..
  3. ^ Gross L (2009). "A broken trust: lessons from the vaccine—autism wars". PLoS Biol. 7 (5): 756–9. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000114. PMC 2682483. PMID 19478850.
  4. ^ Scott, Eugenie C. (2009). Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction (PDF) (Second ed.). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313344275. Retrieved 1 November 2017.
  5. ^ Krugman, Paul (January 30, 2006). "A False Balance". The New York Times.
  6. ^ Purdy, Chase. "Your mental image of the average Viking is probably wrong". Quartz. Retrieved 2022-06-23.
  7. ^ "Roman Warm Period", Wikipedia, 2022-06-01, retrieved 2022-06-23
  8. ^ "Climate change denial", Wikipedia, 2022-06-21, retrieved 2022-06-23
  9. ^ "Global cooling", Wikipedia, 2022-06-08, retrieved 2022-06-23
  10. ^ Edenhofer, Ottmar; Pichs-Madruga, Ramón; Sokona, Youba; et al., eds. (2014). Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change: Working Group III contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9781107415416. ISBN 9781107058217. OCLC 892580682.
  11. ^ America's Climate Choices: Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change; National Research Council (2010). Advancing the Science of Climate Change. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. ISBN 978-0-309-14588-6.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ Unger, Nadine; Bond, Tami C.; Wang, James S.; Koch, Dorothy M.; Menon, Surabi; Shindell, Drew T.; Bauer, Susanne (2010-02-23). "Attribution of climate forcing to economic sectors". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 107 (8): 3382–7. Bibcode:2010PNAS..107.3382U. doi:10.1073/pnas.0906548107. PMC 2816198. PMID 20133724.
  13. ^ Committee on Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years, National Research Council (2006). Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. ISBN 0-309-10225-1.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ Anderegg, William R. L.; Prall, James W.; Harold, Jacob; Schneider, Stephen H. (2010-07-06). "Expert credibility in climate change". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 107 (27): 12107–9. Bibcode:2010PNAS..10712107A. doi:10.1073/pnas.1003187107. PMC 2901439. PMID 20566872.
  15. ^ Oreskes, Naomi (2004-12-03). "The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change". Science. 306 (5702): 1686. doi:10.1126/science.1103618. PMID 15576594.
  16. ^ Doran, Peter T.; Zimmerman, Maggie Kendall (2009-01-20). "Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change" (PDF). Eos. 90 (3): 22–23. Bibcode:2009EOSTr..90...22D. doi:10.1029/2009EO030002. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2019-09-25. Retrieved 2016-09-08.
  17. ^ Moore Andrew (2006). "Bad science in the headlines: Who takes responsibility when science is distorted in the mass media?". EMBO Reports. 7 (12): 1193–1196. doi:10.1038/sj.embor.7400862. PMC 1794697. PMID 17139292.
  18. ^ Hilton S, Petticrew M, Hunt K (2007). "Parents' champions vs. vested interests: Who do parents believe about MMR? A qualitative study". BMC Public Health. 7: 42. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-42. PMC 1851707. PMID 17391507.
  19. ^ Speers T, Justin L (September 2004). "Journalists and jabs: media coverage of the MMR vaccine". Communication and Medicine. 1 (2): 171–181. doi:10.1515/come.2004.1.2.171. PMID 16808699. S2CID 29969819.
  20. ^ Jackson T (2003). "MMR: more scrutiny, please". The BMJ. 326 (7401): 1272. doi:10.1136/bmj.326.7401.1272. PMC 1126154.
  21. ^ Dobson Roger (May 2003). "Media misled the public over the MMR vaccine, study says". The BMJ. 326 (7399): 1107. doi:10.1136/bmj.326.7399.1107-a. PMC 1150987. PMID 12763972.