If the ‘alternative’ viewpoint isn’t sound, there is nothing to report on the alternative viewpoint.
For some things there are no sound alternative viewpoints.
There seems to be a number of media personnel who feel obliged to offer ‘another’ viewpoint, as if everything were decided by opinion.
It is, at best, lame journalism to rope in some unorthodox opinion to fill in some imaginary requirement that an alternative viewpoint be offered.
Alternative views make sense for things defined entirely by opinion: a dress at the Oscars, the colours an automobile manufacturer choose for it’s cars – and so on.
Scientific things are determined by evidence, not opinion.
There can be alternative viewpoints in science for issues that have yet to be settled. In that case it ought to be noted that the material is still under open investigation: the ‘state of play’ of the science should be presented. It would be quite misleading, though, to place unsound alternative viewpoints alongside science that is well-resolved. In that case, the alternative views incorrectly imply the science is unresolved, leaving the piece misrepresenting the subject matter.
Similarly, if views that are not sound are presented alongside sources that are sound, the audience may take away that the ‘alternative’ view has a creditability that they do not.
I’ve been reminded of this by Radio New Zealand, who usually do a good job, offering Hilary Butler as a counterpoint to information on vaccines by Immunisation Advisory Centre immunisation research director Helen Petousis-Harris.
This is the same Hilary Butler who believes that baking soda can cure cancer, who listed homeopathic remedies as treatments for radiation illnesses and more.
There is no obligation to present an ‘alternative’ views. If there are no sound alternative views, best not to offer any.
Even more egregiously Radio Rhema, a religious programming station, simply offered a platform for a ‘spokesperson’ from an anti-vaccine organisation to speak in what could scarcely be called an interview. No critical questioning of the interviewee, just an opportunity for them to babble on. I’m not going to attempt to address the (many) inaccuracies presented by the spokesperson, but I will point out that them merely giving themselves the title of ‘researcher’ doesn’t not make their view sound. Perhaps as a religious station they might think of it this way: it’d have as much value as a minister granting themselves the title of bishop because they liked the idea.
3. I have a rule-of-thumb that anyone who advocates homeopathy as lost their ability to critical judge claims. Homeopathy is the easiest of ‘nonsense’ remedies to see through: the repeated dilutions ensure there is nothing of the original ingredients!
4. I suppose some would like the entertainment value of someone talking nonsense. There is that, admittedly. But if the piece is meant to present a topic seriously that wouldn’t gel with the aim.
Other articles on media issues at Code for life: