Saturday, November 03, 2007

Media,bias and issue framing

The media play a key role in public policy debates, acting to frame issues and give direction as to how the public receives information. Now a new study from Harvard has concluded what many have suspected for some time: all forms of media show bias towards leftist politics. Moreover, media coverage tends to focus on the politics of an issue and not its substance.

This situation is exacerbated by the tendency for many issues, especially ecomyths, to be presented in terms that over-simplify science, ignore counter-evidence and present a false, dogmatic representation of scientific information. A situation based characterized as pathological.

I am often asked after a presentation disputing ecomyths how so many other scientists and experts can persist in presenting their perspective if the information I have presented is indeed true.

My answer?

It is that others
either disagree (their beliefs are different), fail to see the whole picture (their expertise is more narrowly confined) and/or they are merely operating within a dominant paradigm wherein so much that underpins ecomyths is simply accepted as axiomatic -- so self-evident that it is accepted without question. Ideas are then framed within this dominant political narrative, and issues of scientific integrity and dispute are subsumed by the larger politics of science, groupthink and a culture that discourages dissent, independent thought and individual responsibility.

We are a culture with tremendous pressure and incentives for conformity. We are quick to censure and in a pervasive culture of fear, people learn quickly to adapt to the dominant paradigm of how society perceives an issue.

Of course, society rarely perceives an issue: individuals do. But most are not operating as free-thinking individuals and their knowledge is "framed" by the manner with which the media, educators and institutions of authority present information.