7 February 2016

If Journalism is About Truth, Then Why Are Top Newspapers Knowingly Publishing This Lie

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Astrology is bunk. Hopefully you know that, but it really does beg the question of why almost every Sunday paper in America will publish a load of silly lies tomorrow, and yes it does matter.

Science literacy is a serious issue in America, and I know this because not ONE of the top Republican candidates for President of the United States will admit that climate change is real, much less that the world is over 4000 million years old! You can add in natural selection as well, and who could blame them, they would have no chance of winning a primary if they did. It’s not their fault, most of these candidates are well-educated, and likely accept the science. They just can’t say so in public!

Just ask former congressman Bob Inglis of South Carolina what happens when you do. He told his constituents that climate change was real, and the price of telling the truth was severe. The voters fired him, however he  did receive the John F Kennedy Profiles in Courage award, which he richly deserved. It seems voters can get upset when they are told something they do not want to be true, and if you give information that conflicts with someone’s world view, anger and distrust usually follows. We all react that way, but knowing that we do makes you a better crtitical thinker, and improves your ability to separate out fact from fiction.

There have been signs lately that this wall of denial is beginning to crack, and I personally think that a party that denies basic science will either quit denying it, or disappear. There are a lot of scientists who adhere to the conservative values of limited government, but the joke you hear at science conferences has some real truth to it: 6% of scientists identify themselves as Republicans, and science has no explanation for why the number is so HIGH. The simple fact that everyone gets this joke is a bad sign for the GOP. I’m not aware of any time in history where one political party was known as the “anti-science” party, and since science always wins in the end, something has to change. If there are any historians out there who know of something similar, I’d like to hear from you!

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 8.43.15 PMNewspapers are not helping, and instead of being bastions for fact, many if not most still run horoscopes each day. Even the left-wing pro-science Huffington Post does, and you’d be surprised (perhaps not) how many people believe that the position of the planets has an impact on how their day will go. This myth lives on because we do not teach high school students about confirmation bias, and it’s  long past time to start. Yes astrology is bunk, but the LA Times publishes it every day as well. ( Please, don’t email me claims that “it’s just fun entertainment for our lower educated readers”, because it is rather obvious, that this excuse doesn’t  really cut it.) 

Astrophysicist (and former rock star, yes really!) Brian Cox, in this talk makes a very good case for why it’s not acceptable to promote bad science. As Dr. Cox points out, scientific literacy is not about what you or I happen to know, it’s about understanding how we know, what we know.

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 3.37.14 AMThere are a lot of more entertaining things you could use the space/bandwidth for than a silly superstition. Now, I subscribe to the NY Times, and the Washington Post, (the Post still publishes a horoscope), but I’ve not found one in the NY Times. It should be said that Kudos are due to the BBC for standing by Professor Brian Cox, who angered these myth followers when he called astrology a “load of rubbish” on one of his popular science series (that for some reason have not aired in America).

So here’s a message to the Post: I like your paper, and your writing has improved greatly recently, which isn’t an easy feat in these tough times for print media, but I’m not sure I can trust a newspaper that prints such silliness as fact. I give you a year to drop the horoscopes, or I’ll vote with my wallet. We should indeed  vote with our pocket books to make society a more scientific literate place. I think our country depends on it, because appearances matter, and when we have a rapper expounding on his belief the Earth is flat, and major party candidates for President believing in  conspiracy theories, it’s more important than ever to print the whole truth, and nothing but, to the best of your ability.

Note: I rewrote and added a couple of lines to the original post here a few days after I posted it.