Monday, August 18, 2014

How TV News "Balance" Slants Towards Cranks, Against Science

Why do TV news stories about anti-science cranks tend to slant towards the cranks and against science? It's mostly because of the same wrong idea about balance that skews climate change stories - but it's also revealing of how TV news forces reporters to do stories fast & cheap.

Here's an example of a crank profile from New England Cable News, which devoted an entire segment to a Cambridge, MA resident who doesn't like new street lights. But "I don't like to look at them" is no more of a winning argument against street lights that are saving taxpayers $500,000 a year than it is against wind turbines, so the guy is also claiming they're making him sick:
Abrams also says he doesn’t like the shadows the new lights cast either. "There's hundreds of shadows on the sidewalk, these lamps cast, it kind of makes me dizzy," he said.
So, crank with an agenda says one thing, who should we put him up against? If you've followed how the media covers climate change, you know anti-science cranks must be juxtaposed with opinionless, objective science:
The U.S. Department of Energy online says it remains unproven that typical exposures to outdoor lighting have negative health impacts, but also say it cannot be ruled out without more data.
That's where the skewed idea of "balance" pushes the story towards the crank. The opposite of a crank isn't a scientist - it's a progressive:

But in the constraints of one eight-hour night shift, finding that progressive to defend science can be hard. Gotta just make the Cambridge city worker the "other side" and call the story done.

Another problem with crank stories is that often the reporter must hold back key facts to prevent the reporter from looking stupid for doing a crank story in the first place. Check out the very last line of this story:
The city also points to some light shields they can install to block the light from going in peoples windows. The city says before the most recent yellow lights, the city had bright white lights. They believe it's just a matter of people getting used to them. Other cities such as Boston have converted the bulk of their lights over to LED, and cities like Los Angeles and Seattle have done so as well.
Cities with a total population of 5.1 million people have installed these lights with no evidence of problems, but the reporter has to put that at the end, because otherwise the story would be revealed as a waste of time just two sentences in.

One final thing the reporter never talks about: How scientists long ago cracked the mystery of how to keep out unwanted light ...

"How I hate venetian blinds"
Post a Comment