The Golden Mean Fallacy – The idiocy of “balanced” reporting on climate change.

I was listening to the Today programme this morning, and finally – Finally! Someone got round to connecting the recent floods with the fact that we’ve now got more Co2 into the atmosphere than there has been since humanity walked the earth.

The climate scientists predicted what is happening in our freak weather conditions. It is never an exact science, but the evidence is as clear as it can be.

Sadly on the Today programme this morning, instead of having an article about the fact of global warming, they retreated into their tired and tested format, of the fallacy of balanced reporting – get two people who disagree onto the programme and let them fight it out

It’s an example of the Golden Mean Fallacy  –  when we are presented with two opposing viewpoints, and we don’t know for sure who is right, then we suppose that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The more complex the argument, the better the debaters, the more likely we are to tend towards the moderate explanation.

The argument to moderation only works when you have two equally valid and equally well presented viewpoints – and when those two viewpoints are not mutually exclusive. But  when you have one person who is right, and one person who is wrong, then moderation is bunk.

In the format of TV or Radio, there isn’t enough time to separate someone’s skill in debating from  the actual truth of their arguments. Therefore to give undue and equal time to a viewpoint which is discredited or disprovable is not being balanced, it is being biased towards the poorest argument, and often towards the angriest person in the room.

On the Today programme we had Sir Brian Hoskins, a member of the Committee on Climate Change, and Lord Nigel Lawson, former Chancellor of the Exchequer and founding chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, discussing the issue. Sir Brian was as so often happens, measured, reasonable, cautious not to overblow his arguments. Nigel Lawson, a seasoned politician, was of course, out there to win the argument.  I suspect to the unbiased listener, the argument was still an open one at the end of the programme. But it’s not.

It is not liberal, or unbiased, or even-handed, to give as much airtime to discredited and false claims. It is irresponsible in the context of a six minute interview to put an expert up against a debater who has little knowledge or experience in the field, who uses statistics to back up his argument, rather than using them to discern what is true. When people are provably wrong, they should not be given air-time. It gives us a false breathing space, when in fact the air is being sucked out of the room.

Complex issues cannot be boiled down to a straight Harry Hill-style fight. To do so is biased reporting in the extreme, and the Today Programme should know better.






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