Why Criticizing Science as “Biased” Gets Us Nowhere; An Example with Fox News


Hi all,

I am always fascinated to hear claims that particular scientific studies are, “biased”. While it is true that there is a lot of unscientific and fradulant findings being published all the time, we need to understand that scientists are people, who hold values and have opinions just as we do. What makes a good scientist is being able to create an objective platform from which empirical research can be conducted. A scientist, or any good thinker for that matter, needs to be able to disconnect their work from their values, beliefs, and attitudes. That being said, it is unreasonable to expect someone to go into science if they have no interest in what their are studying. However, it seems that is what we sometimes expect.

In a recent Fox News article, contributor Kelley Beaucar Vlahos discusses criticism (including her own) of some of the scientific studies that influenced New York State’s recent ban of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. Vlahos accuses the scientists of being “biased” and having ties to the “anti-fracking movement”. This report was peer reviewed, a process that is used to maintain scientific integrity. As reported, the peer reviewers did not know the authors. Furthermore, as a scientist myself (well, studying to be one), I can tell you that the peer review process is often blind, meaning that the authors have no idea who is reviewing their paper and the reviewers do not know whose paper it is at the time of review. The article, however, claims that the authors as well as reviewers were biased, as they are opposed to hydraulic fracturing. What it does not discuss, is why they are opposed. Does their opposition stem from some of their findings as well as other peer reviewed science? Someone is not just simply born a “fractivist”. Scientific studies need to be assessed by their methodology, not the personal characteristics of the scientist. There is no doubt that our attitudes and values affect how we filter information, which can certainly influence how we view findings, but part of being a good scientist is being aware of this.

Finally, the article claims that the scientists did not disclose their political views, etc. in the paper. While it is a standard to disclose conflicts re: financing, stake in ownership, etc., in science, it is not standard to have to disclose political views. For example, do I need to say that I am a “environmentalist, vegetarian…etc.” anytime I write something? Furthermore, if the way to eliminate bias is just to have “pro-fracking” scientists have their own study and then “anti-fracking” scientists have their study, why even have science? That would just be politics.

Dismissing peer-reviewing science as “biased” is totalitarian. It is an attempt to look past important findings that we may not like, which is exactly what Vlahos and Fox News are doing in this instance. We definitely need to understanding the context of scientific studies and it, but there is no purely “objective” study, at the very least there are values implicit in how we measure things. Although minimal, science needs some human input or else there would be no studies; but discarding studies as “biased” that go against your agenda, as opposed to challenging yourself, doesn’t do us any good.

Happy Hermiting, folks.

Image: http://www.stcplanning.org/index.asp?pageId=153

FOX News Headlines “Shark Wrestler” of Threatened Species, Receives Social Media Backlash

1071159_10151525178291336_2068094968_oYesterday, FOX News circulated a video of a fisherman wrestling a 200-pound shark that he dragged onto land. The Sand Shark, listed as Threatened on the protection status scale, is known to be docile and non-aggressive unless persistently aggravated. The FOX News Insider article quotes phrases such as, “Check out the battle and Sudel’s interview above!”, and ,”…even after the seven-foot, 200-pound shark was on the line, Sudel had to literally drag the beast to the shore so he could get some pictures.” It is unfortunate and quite embarrassing that a major news channel has displayed this as news-worthy material and promoted it as respectable. The FOX News Facebook page has seen much backlash resulting from the posting as seen below:

Screen Shot 2013-07-18 at 8.33.29 AMScreen Shot 2013-07-18 at 8.39.12 AMScreen Shot 2013-07-18 at 8.40.25 AM

Of course there is always another side to a story, with supporters counteracting the backlash. This looks very bad on both the collective mentality of our culture and FOX News itself.

Screen Shot 2013-07-18 at 8.43.37 AM Screen Shot 2013-07-18 at 8.44.53 AM

Sources: Sand Tiger Shark, National Geographic, 2013; ‘The Battle Was On’: Watch Fisherman Wrestle 200-Pound Shark, FOX News Insider, 17 July 2013