Because we have access to more information than at any time in human history, it’s easy to uncover facts which align with our perceptions. Once we do, we cling to them with the tenacity of a dying woman to her rosary. Facts that don’t align, we view with suspicion. That’s why I smiled when Monika Bauerlein, CEO of Mother Jones, claimed good news reporting “draws on some of the same principles as scientific method: Have a hypothesis? Expose it to facts and give the evidence its best shot at proving you wrong. ” (“Is There a Vaccine for Propaganda?” by Monika Bauerlein, Mother Jones, March/April 2018, pg. 5.)
She mistakes in thinking reporters begin with a hypothesis. They don’t. They report events, using facts, incomplete ones if necessary, to explain what happened. Take Melania Trump’s decision to wear a jacket with the words, “I don’t care, do you?” printed on the back. She donned it to visit immigrant children who are separated from their parents. That she wore it is the event. Why she wore it is behavior reporters are stumbling over themselves to explain. (Click)
To discover how much speculation plays a part in reporting, spend an afternoon listening to Fox and CNN news. You’ll soon note their endeavors bear little relationship to science.
Bauerlein, however, is convinced reporters dispense facts and that facts can inoculate the public against propaganda. (Ibid, pg. 5.) Truth, she insists, can “act as a kind of vaccine …”Ibid, pg. 4.)
Presuming she is right, and that we can recognize truth when we see it, it seems a frail weapon to use against prejudice. So many of us have resisted the science of climate change, for example, it’s now questionable we can save our species from extinction.
Further, and if we are to be honest, we are guilty of drawing much of our truth from experience or from what trusted friends share. Sometimes, these truths are scientifically valid. Sometimes, they aren’t. In any case, a researcher’s quest for dark matter may be more achievable than a reporter’s chance of convincing another human to accept a fact he or she doesn’t “like” … though, as I reflect upon the concept of dark matter, the two disciplines may be pursuing the same end.