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Among climate scientists in 2013, 97% of peer-reviewed papers that took a position on the cause of global warming said that humans are responsible, 3% said they were not. Among Fox News guests in late 2013, this was presented as a more even balance between the two viewpoints, with 31% of invited guests believing it was happening and 69% not.[1]

False balance, known colloquially as bothsidesism, is a media bias in which journalists present an issue as being more balanced between opposing viewpoints than the evidence supports. Journalists may present evidence and arguments out of proportion to the actual evidence for each side, or may omit information that would establish one side's claims as baseless. False balance has been cited as a cause of misinformation.[2][3][4]

False balance is a bias which usually stems from an attempt to avoid bias and gives unsupported or dubious positions an illusion of respectability. It creates a public perception that some issues are scientifically contentious, though in reality they are not, therefore creating doubt about the scientific state of research. This can be exploited by interest groups such as corporations like the fossil fuel industry or the tobacco industry, or ideologically motivated activists such as vaccination opponents or creationists.[5]

Examples of false balance in reporting on science issues include the topics of human-caused climate change versus natural climate variability, the health effects of tobacco, the alleged relation between thiomersal and autism,[6] alleged negative side effects of the HPV vaccine,[7] and evolution versus intelligent design.[8]

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  • False Balance einfach erklärt (explainity® Erklärvideo)
  • A false balance has equal arms. An object weights `W_1` when placed in one pan and `W_2` when placed


Description and origin

False balance emerges from the ideal of journalistic objectivity, where factual news is presented in a way that allows the reader to make determinations about how to interpret the facts, and interpretations or arguments around those facts are left to the opinion pages. Because many newsworthy events have two or more opposing camps making competing claims, news media are responsible for reporting all (credible or reasonable) opposing positions, along with verified facts that may support one or the other side of an issue. At one time, when false balance was prevalent, news media sometimes reported all positions as though they were equally credible, even though the facts clearly contradicted a position, or there was a substantial consensus on one side of an issue, and only a fringe or nascent theory supporting the other side.

Today, in contrast to prior decades, most media are willing to call out false information as incorrect, such as the idea that the Earth is not warming, or that Donald Trump won the 2020 United States presidential election. For instance, claims that the Earth is not warming are regularly referred to in news (vs only editorials) as "denial", "misleading", or "debunked".[9] Prior to this shift, media would sometimes list all positions without clarifying that one position is known or generally agreed to be false.

Unlike most other media biases, false balance may stem from an attempt to avoid bias; producers and editors may confuse treating competing views fairly—i.e., in proportion to their actual merits and significance—with treating them equally, giving them equal time to present their views even when those views may be known beforehand to be based on false information.[10] Media would then present two opposing viewpoints on an issue as equally credible, or present a major issue on one side of a debate as having the same weight as a minor one on the other.[11] False balance can also originate from other motives such as sensationalism, where producers and editors may feel that a story portrayed as a contentious debate will be more commercially successful than a more accurate (or widely-agreed) account of the issue.

Science journalist Dirk Steffens mocked the practice as comparable to inviting a flat Earther to debate with an astrophysicist over the shape of the Earth, as if the truth could be found somewhere in the middle.[12] Liz Spayd of The New York Times wrote: "The problem with false balance doctrine is that it masquerades as rational thinking."[11]


Climate change

Although the scientific community almost unanimously attributes a majority of the global warming since 1950 to the effects of the Industrial Revolution,[13][14][15] there are a very small number – a few dozen scientists out of tens of thousands – who dispute the conclusion.[16][17][18] Giving equal voice to scientists on both sides makes it seem like there is a serious disagreement within the scientific community, when in fact there is an overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change that anthropogenic global warming exists.[19]

MMR vaccine controversy

Observers have criticized the involvement of mass media in the MMR vaccine controversy, what is known as "science by press conference",[20] alleging that the media provided Andrew Wakefield's study with more credibility than it deserved. A March 2007 paper in BMC Public Health by Shona Hilton, Mark Petticrew, and Kate Hunt postulated that media reports on Wakefield's study had "created the misleading impression that the evidence for the link with autism was as substantial as the evidence against".[21] Earlier papers in Communication in Medicine and the British Medical Journal concluded that media reports provided a misleading picture of the level of support for Wakefield's hypothesis.[22][23][24]

See also


  1. ^ Nuccitelli, Dana (23 October 2013). "Fox News defends global warming false balance by denying the 97% consensus". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 April 2023.
  2. ^ Boykoff, Maxwell T; Boykoff, Jules M (2004). "Balance as bias: global warming and the US prestige press". Global Environmental Change. 14 (2): 125–136. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2003.10.001.
  3. ^ Witynski, Max (22 July 2022). "False balance in news coverage of climate change makes it harder to address the crisis". Northwestern News. Retrieved 15 June 2023.
  4. ^ Imundo, Megan N.; Rapp, David N. (June 2022). "When fairness is flawed: Effects of false balance reporting and weight-of-evidence statements on beliefs and perceptions of climate change". Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition. 11 (2): 258–271. doi:10.1016/j.jarmac.2021.10.002. ISSN 2211-369X. Retrieved 15 June 2023.
  5. ^ Grimes, David Robert (2019). "A dangerous balancing act". EMBO Reports. 20 (8): e48706. doi:10.15252/embr.201948706. PMC 6680130. PMID 31286661..
  6. ^ Gross L (2009). "A broken trust: lessons from the vaccine—autism wars". PLoS Biol. 7 (5): 756–9. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000114. PMC 2682483. PMID 19478850.
  7. ^ Thomas, Ryan J.; Tandoc, Edson C.; Hinnant, Amanda (February 2017). "False Balance in Public Health Reporting? Michele Bachmann, the HPV Vaccine, and "Mental Retardation"". Health Communication. 32 (2): 152–160. doi:10.1080/10410236.2015.1110006. ISSN 1532-7027. PMID 27192091. S2CID 3437969.
  8. ^ Scott, Eugenie C. (2009). Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction (PDF) (Second ed.). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313344275. Retrieved 1 November 2017.
  9. ^ Tabuchi, Hiroko (2 March 2020). "A Trump Insider Embeds Climate Denial in Scientific Research". The New York Times.
  10. ^ Krugman, Paul (30 January 2006). "A False Balance". The New York Times.
  11. ^ a b Spayd, Liz (10 September 2016). "The Truth About 'False Balance'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 13 September 2022.
  12. ^ Deutschland, RedaktionsNetzwerk. "Dirk Steffens zu Umgang mit Corona- und Klimaleugnern: "Falsch, Verblendeten das Wort zu erteilen"". (in German). Retrieved 13 September 2022.
  13. ^ Committee on Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years, National Research Council (2006). Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. ISBN 0-309-10225-1.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ Unger, Nadine; Bond, Tami C.; Wang, James S.; Koch, Dorothy M.; Menon, Surabi; Shindell, Drew T.; Bauer, Susanne (23 February 2010). "Attribution of climate forcing to economic sectors". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 107 (8): 3382–7. Bibcode:2010PNAS..107.3382U. doi:10.1073/pnas.0906548107. PMC 2816198. PMID 20133724.
  15. ^ Edenhofer, Ottmar; Pichs-Madruga, Ramón; Sokona, Youba; et al., eds. (2014). Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change: Working Group III contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9781107415416. ISBN 9781107058217. OCLC 892580682.
  16. ^ Anderegg, William R. L.; Prall, James W.; Harold, Jacob; Schneider, Stephen H. (6 July 2010). "Expert credibility in climate change". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 107 (27): 12107–9. Bibcode:2010PNAS..10712107A. doi:10.1073/pnas.1003187107. PMC 2901439. PMID 20566872.
  17. ^ Oreskes, Naomi (3 December 2004). "The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change". Science. 306 (5702): 1686. doi:10.1126/science.1103618. PMID 15576594.
  18. ^ Doran, Peter T.; Zimmerman, Maggie Kendall (20 January 2009). "Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change" (PDF). Eos. 90 (3): 22–23. Bibcode:2009EOSTr..90...22D. doi:10.1029/2009EO030002. S2CID 128398335. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 September 2019. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  19. ^ America's Climate Choices: Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change; National Research Council (2010). Advancing the Science of Climate Change. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. ISBN 978-0-309-14588-6.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  20. ^ Moore Andrew (2006). "Bad science in the headlines: Who takes responsibility when science is distorted in the mass media?". EMBO Reports. 7 (12): 1193–1196. doi:10.1038/sj.embor.7400862. PMC 1794697. PMID 17139292.
  21. ^ Hilton S, Petticrew M, Hunt K (2007). "Parents' champions vs. vested interests: Who do parents believe about MMR? A qualitative study". BMC Public Health. 7: 42. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-42. PMC 1851707. PMID 17391507.
  22. ^ Speers T, Justin L (September 2004). "Journalists and jabs: media coverage of the MMR vaccine". Communication and Medicine. 1 (2): 171–181. doi:10.1515/come.2004.1.2.171. PMID 16808699. S2CID 29969819.
  23. ^ Jackson T (2003). "MMR: more scrutiny, please". The BMJ. 326 (7401): 1272. doi:10.1136/bmj.326.7401.1272. PMC 1126154.
  24. ^ Dobson Roger (May 2003). "Media misled the public over the MMR vaccine, study says". The BMJ. 326 (7399): 1107. doi:10.1136/bmj.326.7399.1107-a. PMC 1150987. PMID 12763972.

External links

This page was last edited on 25 June 2024, at 14:24
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