Here’s an interesting one, from the Graun: Should newspapers ban climate deniers like Reddit’s science forum? In short, the argument goes that, since deniers can’t really back up their arguments with scientific data, and frequently take their views from extremely biased sources (e.g. funded by oil companies), they’ve been banned from Reddit’s science forum. And it turns out that most of the crappy postings were coming from a tiny minority.
Like our commenters, professional climate change deniers have an outsized influence in the media and the public. And like our commenters, their rejection of climate science is not based on an accurate understanding of the science but on political preferences and personality. As moderators responsible for what millions of people see, we felt that to allow a handful of commenters to so purposefully mislead our audience was simply immoral.
What struck me about this was that the BBC should take heed, too. The Beeb has this infuriating habit of “balancing” its news coverage with just such ignorant, unscientific, unsupported views, on the basis that it can’t be biased. But the question (as always) is whether the BBC has a duty to be unbiased towards two sides of a ridiculous debate (giving equal weight to the idiots/liars) or whether it has a duty to be unbiased towards the truth. Or, put another way, unbiased towards the weight of scientific evidence.
This idea has come up recently in another context, in George Monbiot’s campaign to force the BBC to acknowledge when its contributors are being paid by a lobbying organisation, pressure group, or industry body to have an opinion. This was prompted by a recent “debate” around the question of plain paper packaging for cigarettes. The BBC interviewed a spokesperson from a “think tank” which of course gets at least some of its funding from tobacco companies, a fact that the BBC did not acknowledge when introducing the piece.
For the BBC, they were simply looking to provide the illusion of a debate, when in fact the only people who want tobacco companies not to be regulated are, you know, tobacco companies. The question of how these people sleep at night is never discussed.