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Community discussion: Do pundits harm science?

Are opinion pieces hurting the spread of scientific information to the public?


Annemarie Dooling
June 20, 2014 10:57PM (UTC)

Last week the pessimists among you proudly raised your hands. During our weekly Salon Sustainability community discussion, many of you chimed in to agree that there wasn't much to be optimistic about, as far as significant changes to the climate situation go. And although you were very open with sharing the reasons why it's fruitless to look at the bright side of ongoing controversial solutions, few of you pointed to lack of information as a specific point in your cynicism. The president takes a different view on that. During his commencement address to the University of California at Irvine’s 2014 graduating class, and after taking a moment to speak about climate deniers, Obama made it a priority to explain that we need more actual science funneling out to the public, and less punditry.

“Part of the challenge is that the media doesn’t spend a lot of time covering climate change and letting average Americans know how it could impact our future. Now, the broadcast networks’ nightly newscasts spend just a few minutes a month covering climate issues. On cable, the debate is usually between political pundits, not scientists. When we introduced those new anti-pollution standards a couple weeks ago, the instant reaction from Washington’s political press wasn’t about what it would mean for our planet; it was what would it mean for an election six months from now. And that kind of misses the point. Of course, they’re not scientists, either.”

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To piggyback on last week's discussion, when we took a brief look at how journalist Ezra Klein's personal defeatist views had started a wave of responses from both pessimists and optimists, let's ask ourselves what role talking heads have in our own views of climate change.

It's worth acknowledging that while pundits have access to information your average citizen may not have, they are largely responsible only to their own opinions, whereas scientists have research to back up -- or deconstruct -- their own hypotheses. And while scientists may be revered in certain circles, and known by peers in their fields, pundits generally have a larger audience -- an audience that may consist of a public that is susceptible to their views.

And so, we wonder, do these talking heads actually help champion science? Is the pursuit of any knowledge a good start? Or would it be more helpful to have a valid scientific discussion in the spotlight? One backed-up by research, and spearheaded by the people involved in study? What should be done about the science pundits?


Annemarie Dooling

Annemarie is here to talk about Netflix, travel and local politics, and answer polite questions from the community at adooling@salon.com.

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Climate Change Community Discussion Pundits Science

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