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Plenary session

Beyond cheerleading

4 July

08:45 to 09:45

STCC, Auditorium A




Escaping the "balance" trap - rethinking science journalism in an era of fabricated controversies

Is glyphosate a carcinogen? Is sugar toxic? Does Tamiflu work? These “scientific” controversies (and hundreds of others) have something in common: they have enormous economic implications, and with billions of dollars at stake industry has involved itself deeply in them. In a context where the scientific power of corporations is growing exponentially, while public research struggles to maintain funding, such controversies are becoming the new norm.
This sets unprecedented challenges for science journalists. As scientists funded by corporations not only weigh in heavily in many debates, but even set the research agenda in entire fields of knowledge, should journalists remain neutral? Can they? Do key values of journalism such as “balance” and “objectivity” need rethinking?
In her seminal book, “Merchants of Doubt”, Naomi Oreskes (who teaches history of science at Harvard University) analyzed industry’s tactics in the climate debate, and described the history of these tactics and their original invention by the tobacco industry. She will reflect on these essential issues for WCSJ2019.

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