How to balance Balanced Reporting and Reliable Reporting

Abstract

The paper draws on philosophy of science to help resolve a tension between two central journalistic ideals: That of resenting diverse viewpoints (Balanced Reporting) and that of presenting the most reliable testimony (Reliable Reporting). While both of these ideals are valuable, they may be in tension. This is particularly so when it comes to scientific testimony and science reporting. Thus, we face a hard question:

The Question of Balance

How should Balanced Reporting and Reliable Reporting be balanced in science reporting?

The present paper contributes substantive proposals in a manner that integrates philosophy of science with the recent empirical literature on science communication. Specifically, I articulate and evaluate strategies for balancing Balanced Reporting and Reliable Reporting. First, I provide a diagnosis of the conflict between them that is informed by philosophy of science. On this basis, I provide restrictions of both Balanced Reporting and Reliable Reporting. The restrictions are unified because they are inspired by similar reflections about the epistemic basis of science reporting—namely scientific justification. Moreover, I note some empirical work that supports the restrictions as well as some empirical work that indicates some limitations of them. Thus, the paper exemplifies how an empirically informed philosophy of science may bear on a question of societal concern.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    I take norms to be objective benchmarks of assessment that the agent need not have any cognitive access to, whereas guidelines are prescriptive and met only if they are, in some sense, followed by the agent (Gerken 2017, 2018a). Often the guideline will be a simplified approximation of the norm which it is feasible to follow. Here I will primarily be concerned with the underlying norms. Philosophy of science can contribute to the articulation of principled norms, whereas it is a more interdisciplinary task to articulate implementable guidelines. However, in this case, the guidelines may not need to differ much from the norms. So, I will occasionally consider the principles qua guidelines.

  2. 2.

    Importantly, the principle appears to be severely qualified elsewhere in BBC’s editorial guidelines. Consider, for example, the following under the headline ‘Due Weight’: 4.4.2: “we should seek to achieve 'due weight'. For example, minority views should not necessarily be given equal weight to the prevailing consensus” (BBC 2018a, b). Given the tension between these formulations, the conflict that the present paper addresses is very much present in actual editorial guidelines.

  3. 3.

    I will articulate the norm in terms of reliability of the basis of a hypothesis where the basis may refer to the usual bearers of reliability, such as sources or processes. However, the principle does not hinge on a reliabilist framework. For example, it could be rearticulated in evidentialist terms.

  4. 4.

    Thanks here to Carrie Figdor.

  5. 5.

    Coincidentally (in the literal sense of the term), Fox News retired their motto ‘Fair & Balanced’ in June 2017.

  6. 6.

    Thanks to Åsa Wikforss for pushing this point and to Karen Kovaka for suggesting the characterization in terms of equivocation on ‘controversial.’

  7. 7.

    I elaborate on this point in Gerken (2018a).

  8. 8.

    Of course, novel, untested hypotheses might run afoul of other news criteria. Generally, reporting clear-cutfindings may be more newsworthy. (I say ‘generally’ because reporting on new radical ideas about sexy topics figures prominently in more sensationalist science reporting).

  9. 9.

    This is not to deny that scientists are often dismissive of novel hypotheses or minority criticism. As Kuhn famously argued, in normal science, alternative perspectives about fundamental assumptions may be ignored (Kuhn 1962). But this must be counterbalanced by arguments that novel discoveries are highly prioritized in the scientific community (Strevens 2003).

  10. 10.

    Beliefs about our own phenomenological states are candidates for beliefs better justified by a non-scientific source. Insofar as philosophy is not science, some philosophical theses and theories are other candidates.

  11. 11.

    Of course, there are grand debates about the capacity of science to produce true or verisimilar hypotheses. But due to the grandness of these debates, they must be set aside here (but see Gerken 2018b, forthcoming a, b).

  12. 12.

    I have added the’and accepting’ to the characterization in order to allow for the widely held idea that the scientific community may accept a theory or hypothesis that is not believed.

  13. 13.

    A more ambitious suggestion (that I will not rely on here) is the following principle:

    Justification Reporting

    Science reporters should, whenever feasible, report aspects of the nature and strength of scientific justification or lack thereof for a reported scientific hypothesis.

    Since Justification Reporting is not required for the ensuing argument, I will not motivate it here (but I do in Gerken forthcoming a, b, c). For those who find it agreeable, it provides a unified rationale for the restrictions of both Balanced Reporting and Reliable Reporting that I am about to propose.

  14. 14.

    That said, I have presented Epistemically Balanced Reporting to science journalists (see the acknowledgements section) who have generally responded that they found it useful as stated.

  15. 15.

    There are differences between existing versions of Weight-of-Evidence Reporting, with (Dixon and Clarke 2013; Clarke et al. 2015a) aligning more with the present approach than (Dunwoody and Kohl 2017). However, the ‘Evidentiary Balance’ condition in (Clarke et al. 2015a) includes a mix of justification reporting and consensus reporting (see also Clarke et al. 2015b). So, Clarke et al.’s empirical evidence only provides indirect evidence for Epistemically Balanced Reporting, which may be seen as forming a specific brand of Weight-of-Evidence Reporting or as a broadly congenial alternative to it.

References

  1. Almassi, B. (2012). Climate change, epistemic trust, and expert trustworthiness. Ethics & the Environment, 17(2), 29–49.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Anderson, Elizabeth. (2011). Democracy, public policy, and lay assessments of scientific testimony. Episteme, 8(2), 144–164.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Angler, M. W. (2017). Science journalism: An introduction. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  4. BBC. (2011). Science betrayed – episode 2. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00zm328. 26 October 2019.

  5. BBC. (2018a). BBC editorial guidelines. BBC Online. https://www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines/guidelines. 26 October 2019.

  6. BBC. (2018b). In the wake of wakefield. BBC 4, Feburauy 17.

  7. Bedford, D. (2015). Does climate literacy matter? A case study of U.S. students’ level of concern about anthropogenic global warming. Journal of Geography, 115(5), 187–197.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Berlin, J. A., & Golub, R. M. (2014). Meta-analysis as evidence: Building a better pyramid. JAMA, 312(6), 603–606.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Boykoff, M. T. (2007). Flogging a dead norm? Newspaper coverage of anthropogenic climate change in the United States and United Kingdom from 2003 to 2006. Area, 39(4), 470–481.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Boykoff, M. T., & Boykoff, J. M. (2004). Balance as bias: Global warming and the US prestige press. Global Environmental Change, 14(2), 125–136.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. (2018). Vaccines and autism. Retrieved July 1, 2019 https://www.chop.edu/centers-programs/vaccine-education-center/vaccines-and-other-conditions/vaccines-autism.

  12. Clark, D., Ranney, M. A., & Felipe, J. (2013). Knowledge helps: Mechanistic information and numeric evidence as cognitive levers to overcome stasis and build public consensus on climate change. In M. Knauff, M. Pauen, N. Sebanz, & I. Wachsmuth (Eds.), Proceedings of 35th annual meeting of the cognitive science society (pp. 2070–2075).

  13. Clarke, C. E., Dixon, G. N., Holton, A., & McKeever, B. W. (2015a). Including “evidentiary balance” in news media coverage of vaccine risk. Health Communication, 30(5), 461–472.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Clarke, C. E., Weberling McKeever, B., Holton, A., & Dixon, G. N. (2015b). The influence of weight-of-evidence messages on (vaccine) attitudes: A sequential mediation model. Journal of Health Communication, 20(11), 1302–1309.

    Google Scholar 

  15. CNN. (2019). ‘MMR vaccine does not cause autism, another study confirms’ https://edition.cnn.com/2019/03/04/health/mmr-vaccine-autism-study/index.html. 26 October 2019.

  16. Dixon, G. N., & Clarke, C. E. (2013). Heightening uncertainty around certain science: Media coverage, false balance, and the autism-vaccine controversy. Science Communication, 35(3), 358–382.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Dixon, G., Hmielowski, J., & Ma, Y. (2017). Improving climate change acceptance among U.S. conservatives through value-based message targeting. Science Communication, 39(4), 520–534.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Douglas, H. (2009). Science, policy, and the value-free ideal. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Douven, I., & Cuypers, S. (2009). Fricker on testimonial justification. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 40(1), 36–44.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Dunwoody, S. (2005). Weight-of-evidence reporting: What is it? Why use it? Nieman Reports, 54(4), 89–91.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Dunwoody, S. (2014). Science journalism. Routledge: In Routledge Handbook of Public Communication of Science and Technology.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Dunwoody, S., & Kohl, P. A. (2017). Using weight-of-experts messaging to communicate accurately about contested science. Science Communication, 39(3), 338–357.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Entman, R. (1989). Democracy without citizens: Media and the decay of american politics. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Feinstein, N. (2011). Salvaging science literacy. Science Education, 95, 168–185.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Figdor, C. (2010). Is objective news possible? (pp. 153–164). Journalism ethics: A philosophical approach.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Figdor, C. (2013). New skepticism about science. Philosophers’ Magazine, 60(1), 51–56.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Figdor, Carrie. (2017). (When) is scientific reporting ethical? The case for recognizing shared epistemic responsibility in science journalism. Frontiers in Communication, 2, 1–7.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Figdor, C. (2018). Trust me: News, credibility deficits, and balance. In C. Fox & J. Saunders (Eds.), Media ethics, free speech, and the requirements of democracy (pp. 69–86). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Fischhoff, B. (2013). The sciences of science communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(Supplement 3), 14033–14039.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Fricker, E. (2002). Trusting others in the sciences: A priori or empirical warrant? Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 33(2), 373–383.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Fricker, M. (2007). Epistemic injustice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Gelbspan, R. (1998). The heat is on: The climate crisis, the cover-up, the prescription. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Gerken, M. (2012). Discursive justification and skepticism. Synthese, 189(2), 373–394.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Gerken, M. (2013). Internalism and externalism in the epistemology of testimony. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 87(3), 532–557.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Gerken, M. (2015). The epistemic norms of intra-scientific testimony. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 45, 568–595.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Gerken, M. (2017). On folk epistemology. How we think and talk about knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Gerken, M. (2018a). Expert trespassing testimony and the ethics of science communication. Journal for General Philosophy of Science, 49(3), 299–318.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Gerken, M. (2018b). Pragmatic encroachment on scientific knowledge? In M. McGrath & B. Kim (Eds.), Pragmatic encroachment (pp. 116–140). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Gerken, M. (forthcoming a). Public scientific testimony in the scientific image. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science A.

  40. Gerken, M. (forthcoming b). The significance of scientific testimony.

  41. Gerken, M. (forthcoming c). Epistemic entitlement – its scope and limits. In P. Graham & N. J. L. L. Pedersen (Eds.), Epistemic entitlement. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  42. Goldman, A. I. (2001). Experts: Which ones should you trust? Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 63(1), 85–110.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Guy, S., Kashima, Y., Walker, I., & O’Neill, S. (2014). Investigating the effects of knowledge and ideology on climate change beliefs. European Journal of Social Psychology, 44(5), 421–429.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Hall, N., & Hájek, A. (2002). Induction and probability. In P. Machamer & M. Silberstein (Eds.), The Blackwell guide to the philosophy of science (pp. 149–172). Oxford: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Hansson, S. O. (2008). Science and pseudo-science. In Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy.

  46. Harding, S. (1991). Whose science? Whose knowledge? Thinking from women’s lives. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Hart, P. S., & Nisbet, E. C. (2012). Boomerang effects in science communication: How motivated reasoning and identity cues amplify opinion polarization about climate mitigation policies. Communication Research, 39(6), 701–723.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Hawley, K. (2012). Trust: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Hoyningen-Huene, P. (2013). Systematicity: The nature of science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Hviid, A., Hansen, J. V., Frisch, M., & Melbye, M. (2019). Measles. Mumps, Rubella Vaccination and Autism: A Nationwide Cohort Study. Annals of internal medicine.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Jamieson, K. H., Kahan, D., & Scheufele, D. A. (Eds.). (2017). The Oxford handbook of the science of science communication. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Johnson, D. R. (2017). Bridging the political divide: Highlighting explanatory power mitigates biased evaluation of climate arguments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 51, 248–255.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Kahan, D. (2015). What is the “science of science communication”. Journal of Science Communication, 14(3), 1–10.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Kahan, D. (2017). The ‘Gateway Belief’ illusion: Reanalyzing the results of a scientific-consensus messaging study. Journal of Science Communication, 16(05), A03.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Kahan, D. M., Jenkins-Smith, H., & Braman, D. (2011). Cultural cognition of scientific consensus. Journal of Risk Research, 14(2), 147–174.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Kahan, D. M., Peters, E., Wittlin, M., Slovic, P., Ouellette, L. L., Braman, D., et al. (2012). The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks. Nature Climate Change, 2(10), 732–735.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Keren, A. (2018). The public understanding of what? Laypersons’ epistemic needs, the division of cognitive labor, and the demarcation of science. Philosophy of Science, 85(5), 781–792.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Kitcher, P. (1990). The division of cognitive labor. Philosophy of Science, 87, 5–22.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Kitcher, P. (1993). The advancement of science. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Kitcher, P. (2003). Science, truth, and democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Kitcher, P. (2011). Science in a democratic society. Lanham: Promethoeus Books.

    Google Scholar 

  62. Kohring, M., & Matthes, J. (2007). Trust in news media. Communication Research, 34(2), 231–252.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Kovaka, K. (forthcoming). Climate change denial and beliefs about science. Synthese.

  64. Kuhn, T. (1962). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  65. Kunda, Z. (1990). The case for motivated reasoning. Psychological Bulletin, 108(3), 480.

    Google Scholar 

  66. Levy, N. (2019). Why no-platforming is sometimes a justifiable position. Aeon, March 4, 2019 https://aeon.co/ideas/why-no-platforming-is-sometimes-a-justifiable-position?utm.

  67. Lewandowsky, S., Cook, J., & Lloyd, E. (2018). The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracism. Synthese, 195(1), 175–196.

    Google Scholar 

  68. Lipton, P. (2004). Inference to the best explanation. London: Routledge/Taylor and Francis Group.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Longino, H. (1990). Science as social knowledge. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  70. Longino, H. (2002). The fate of knowledge. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  71. McCain, K. (2015). Explanation and the nature of scientific knowledge. Science & Education, 24(7–8), 827–854.

    Google Scholar 

  72. McCain, K., & Poston, T. (2014). Why explanatoriness is evidentially relevant. Thought: A Journal of Philosophy, 3(2), 145–153.

    Google Scholar 

  73. Merton, R. [1942] (1973). Science and Technology in a Democratic Order. Journal of Legal and Political Sociology, 1: 115–126, 1942. Reprinted as “The Normative Structure of Science”: 267–278 in Merton, R.The Sociology of Science. Theoretical and Empirical Investigations, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  74. Miller, B. (2009). What does it mean that PRIMES is in P? Popularization and distortion revisited. Social Studies of Science, 39(2), 257–288.

    Google Scholar 

  75. Mooney, C., & Nisbet, M. C. (2005). Undoing Darwin. Columbia Journalism Review, 44(3), 30–39.

    Google Scholar 

  76. Murad, M. H., Asi, N., Alsawas, M., & Alahdab, F. (2016). New evidence pyramid. BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine, 21(4), 125–127.

    Google Scholar 

  77. Nelkin, D. (1987). The culture of science journalism. Society, 24(6), 17–25.

    Google Scholar 

  78. Nyhan, B., & Reifler, J. (2010). When corrections fail: The persistence of political misperceptions. Political Behavior, 32(2), 303–330.

    Google Scholar 

  79. Popper, K. R., (1934/2002), Logik der Forschung, Berlin: Akademie Verlag. (English translation as The logic of scientific discovery, London: Routledge).

  80. Popper, K. R. (1963). Conjectures and refutations: The growth of scientific knowledge. New York: Harper.

    Google Scholar 

  81. Porritt, J., et al. (2018). Climate change is real. We must not offer credibility to those who deny it. The Guardian. August 26, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/aug/26/climate-change-is-real-we-must-not-offer-credibility-to-those-who-deny-it.

  82. Ranney, M. A., & Clark, D. (2016). climate change conceptual change: Scientific information can transform attitudes. Topics in Cognitive Science, 8(1), 49–75.

    Google Scholar 

  83. Read, R. (2018). I won’t go on the BBC if it supplies climate change deniers as ‘balance’. The Guardian,August 2, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/02/bbc-climate-change-deniers-balance.

  84. Schudson, M. (2001). The objectivity norm in American journalism. Journalism, 2(2), 149–170.

    Google Scholar 

  85. Sherman, D. K., & Cohen, G. L. (2006). The psychology of Self-defense: Self-affirmation theory. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 183–242.

    Google Scholar 

  86. Simion, M. (2017). Epistemic norms and ‘he said/she said’ reporting. Episteme, 14(4), 413–422.

    Google Scholar 

  87. Simpson, R. M., & Srinivasan, A. (2018). No platforming. In J. Lackey (Ed.), Academic freedom (pp. 186–209). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  88. Sinatra, G. M., Kienhues, D., & Hofer, B. K. (2014). Addressing challenges to public understanding of science: Epistemic cognition, motivated reasoning, and conceptual change. Educational Psychologist, 49(2), 123–138.

    Google Scholar 

  89. Soffer, O. (2009). The competing ideals of objectivity and dialogue in American journalism. Journalism, 10, 473–491.

    Google Scholar 

  90. Steele, K. (2012). The scientist qua policy advisor makes value judgments. Philosophy of Science, 79(5), 893–904.

    Google Scholar 

  91. Strevens, M. (2003). The role of the priority rule in science. Journal of Philosophy, 100(2), 55–79.

    Google Scholar 

  92. Sturgis, P., & Allum, N. (2004). Science in society: Re-evaluating the deficit model of public attitudes. Public Understanding of Science, 13(1), 55–74.

    Google Scholar 

  93. Thagard, P. (1997). Collaborative knowledge. Noûs, 31(2), 242–261.

    Google Scholar 

  94. Weber, E. U., & Stern, P. C. (2011). Public understanding of climate change in the United States. American Psychologist, 66(4), 315.

    Google Scholar 

  95. Winsberg, E., Huebner, B., & Kukla, R. (2014). Accountability and values in radically collaborative research. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 46, 16–23.

    Google Scholar 

  96. Wood, T., & Porter, E. (2019). The elusive backfire effect: Mass attitudes’ steadfast factual adherence. Political Behavior, 41(1), 135–163.

    Google Scholar 

  97. Wray, K. B. (2015). History of epistemic communities and collaborative research. In J. Wright (Ed.), International encyclopedia of the social & behavioral sciences (2nd ed., Vol. 7, pp. 867–872). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

I presented early versions of this article at the Danish Philosophical Society Annual Meeting, Roskilde University Feb. 2018; University of Copenhagen, Mar. 2018; University of St. Andrews, May 2018; the University of Stockholm, Nov. 2018; Stanford University, Feb. 2019 and VU Amsterdam, May 2019. Thanks to the audiences for helpful feedback. I also presented the material at an editorial meeting at videnskab.dk in Oct. 2018 and would like to thank the crew of science journalists for helpful perspectives. For written comments, I am grateful to Carrie Figdor, Bjørn Hallsson and Karen Kovaka.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mikkel Gerken.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Gerken, M. How to balance Balanced Reporting and Reliable Reporting. Philos Stud 177, 3117–3142 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-019-01362-5

Download citation

Keywords

  • Public scientific testimony
  • Science reporting
  • Balance norm