Skip to content >>

an Economist Intelligence Unit business healthcare

"Balance" in science journalism

July 7th 2010

Fiona Fox from the Science Media Centre has written an interesting blog on the BBC about the concept of “balance” in the reporting of science stories. She argues that all too often the media are so keen to present the “alternative” point of view that they fail to portray where the weight of evidence lies in a news story; examples include climate change, evolution, GM crops, and most famously of course MMR.  She describes what might be regarded as a pattern of the “expert” on the one side (often perceived as the voice of the establishment) and the plucky sceptic on the other (speaking up for the rest of us). Observers might conclude that maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle of the two polarised positions, regardless of where the actual evidence might lie (“who needs evidence anyway?”).

Fiona concludes that what is required is the re-training and indeed the re-emergence of the specialist science journalist. They often suffer more than anyone at the hands of their own editors’ demand for “balance”. She argues that they should be at the forefront of the attempt to tease-out the false claims and distortions in the research evidence. Three cheers for that.

And if you want to see how it could all work in practice (here comes the plug…) check out our work on Behind the Headlines for NHS Choices perhaps. Or, for that matter, take a look at our work in healthcare; all of it a cold hard stare at the evidence - like a cool refreshing shower in the middle of one of these hot, sticky summer days we're currently enjoying.