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Why do media report 'the other side' of scientific fact?

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Haddayr Copley-Woods
Haddayr Copley-Woods lives in Minneapolis and is a writer, blogger and mother.
Courtesy Haddayr Copley-Woods

The American media's bad science is making us sick.

The results? Frightened and ill-informed parents who don't vaccinate their children. Self-righteous blowhards who demand their religion be taught in my kids' science classes as a scientific theory. Politicians who deny the overwhelming evidence that human beings are causing global warming.

  Of course, when you come right down to it, everyone is responsible for her own actions. But when we depend on the media for guidance in making those decisions, we are depending on a deeply flawed presentation of the facts.

Well, reporters, what do you have to say for yourselves? Why do you allow unscientific people to spout their harebrained schemes side by side with genuine doctors and scientists who follow the scientific method? 

Is it in the name of balance? When was it written into journalistic theory that each story has two equally legitimate sides? When did fact-checking become too odious?

There are some givens in science: The theory of evolution. The origin of global warming. The lack of any connection between autism and vaccines, despite exhaustive studies searching for one. 

Perhaps you can find one person with an M.D. or Ph.D. after his name who will say otherwise. But this does not mean he or she belongs in your stories, especially when this supposed expert has no credibility in the scientific community. You are spreading misinformation, and this misinformation kills.

Do I sound melodramatic? It's a fact: Measles outbreaks have become a problem in communities with low vaccination rates, and measles, mumps and rubella infections have killed people. Recently. Like, this year.

I do not know how many children have been killed or damaged by parents and doctors attempting to chelate them for nonexistent mercury poisoning, or subject them to pressurized oxygen chambers due to unscientific claptrap.

My child has Asperger's and Tourette's. I understand the panic parents feel when a child reacts to the world in frightening and unpredictable ways. I understand the instinct to go with emotional reactions rather than scientific evidence.

But let me tell you something: I do not appreciate these parents risking my children's lives so that they can indulge their superstitions. Vaccinating a kid is not just about that individual child. It's about herd immunity. 

Because people all react differently to vaccines, my fully vaccinated kids could still come down with polio if someone else's unvaccinated children exposed them to it. Babies who have not completed their vaccinations are particularly at risk of dying from measles and mumps.

Just to be clear: A parent's decision to take healthy skepticism and twist it into some bizarre inability to comprehend basic scientific principles, or to trust the preponderance of scientific evidence, could very well kill the neighbors' baby. All because some parents think vaccinations will make their kid turn out like mine.(For the record: They won't. And also, my kid is awesome -- you should be so lucky.)

Perhaps parents wouldn't be so easily misled if more reporters actually did some hard-nosed reporting on this and other scientific topics. 

But what I mainly see and hear are vapid point/counterpoints in which the real scientist becomes more and more frustrated with the evangelist, or the writer uncritically reports a totally unsubstantiated claim made by a celebrity like Jenny McCarthy -- who got her "doctorate from Google" (her words, not mine) -- with no follow-up or refutation.

We need fewer debates about whether humans have caused global warming and more vigorous work on stopping it before we destroy the planet -- if it isn't too late. We need genuine research into possible environmental triggers for autism that is not muddied by bad science and hysteria. 

And for our intellectual and physical health, not to mention that of our planet, we need kids to learn science in school and religion in their homes and places of worship.

If I can't have what I really want -- a solid and respectable education in the sciences for every person in America -- can I at least get the journalistic profession to do its job?

Anybody? Anybody willing to just do your job?

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Haddayr Copley-Woods, Minneapolis, is a copywriter, blogger and mother.