by Denyse O'Leary
Once upon a time there was a broadcasting corporation that turned down a chance to do a show on the Big Bang because they couldn't find film footage. The same outfit nixed the origin of life because they couldn't find anyone around then who would make a hot interview. (Being "one cell of a guy" didn't count, apparently ....)
Seriously, science stories can be difficult to cover. Most journalists don't have a background in science and most audiences just want to cut to the chase (= so what's the cure for cancer?). It took me two years and more to figure out what the ID guys were saying, because I had to work through so much that I took for granted but had never really sourced. (It wasn't polite to source things like that.)
Frankly, it is so much easier to repeat platitudes and to assume that everyone who does not agree with the boffins is a fundie nutjob. I am glad I stuck it out - but not surprised that few others did.
But several other factors also help determine how controversies around ID will be covered. Two of them stand out:
1. Journalists are extraordinarily deferential to science boffins, in a way that is quite different from the way we usually treat subjects. Whatever science boffins say tends to be treated as true, no matter that it may fly in the face of evidence. You don't need to venture into the intelligent design controversy to discover that. The latest craze about broccoli or salmon is treated with the utmost seriousness, even though most of it will be disowned a decade from now. Maybe half a decade. We know that, but we seldom act as if we do.
2. To the extent that most journalists are culturally liberal, we conform easily to a materialist worldview. Anything that supports it feels more right than anything that opposes it. In that state of mind, we always assume that whatever we believe will be confirmed and whatever we don't believe will be disconfirmed. If that has not happened - well, we have not waited long enough. That's all. So even if ID is not disconfirmed today (just because some boffin says it is), not to worry - it will be disconfirmed tomorrow.
Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary (www.designorchance.com) is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain (Harper 2007).
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