It is a wise man who said that there is no greater inequality than the equal treatment of unequals. -Felix Frankfurther
Fair and balanced. Tell both sides. We inform, you decide. Teach the debate.
In politics, philosophy, ethics, and a whole host of other arenas, these are undoubtedly great ideals to strive for. You might ask yourself how anyone, particularly anyone involved in presenting unbiased, honest information to people, could possiblybe opposed to this.
(Image credit: Philadelphia Inquirer / Universal Press Syndicate.)
Well, I am. Because you cannot choose, in an unbiased fashion, if you have biased facts. For the type of news I bring to the world, this is particularly egregious, because I am a scientist. When it comes to science, not all ideas are entitled to equal time, equal weight or even an equal presence. In science, ideas, perspectives, and theories are judged by a much higher standard: by their scientific merits.
Well, where do you go if that’s what you want: science, medical, and health news viewed through the filter of their scientific merits? Do you go to the news outlets you like, and trust that their reporting provides that filter? Do you go around to various networks of blogger scientists and medical professionals, collecting a firehose of RSS feeds? Do you do a haphazard search on the topic, trusting yourself to sift through the results and pull out the legitimate articles?
Whatever you choose, the above options are far from satisfying. In an ideal world, you’d have the unlimited knowledge necessary to discriminate between what was scientifically factual and what wasn’t. But unless you yourself were actually one of the scientists who worked on the issue in question, how would you be sure you had it right? I suppose you could go and find out what the scientists who actually did work on it, and listen to what they had to say. You’d then eschew the sources that either ignored or bashed those scientists, and you’d likely get riled up and angry at the sources that spread misinformed untruths about the results. It would take all of that to make sure you were getting it right; that’s being vigilant about the truth!
(Image credit: Jesse Springer.)
Of course, it would be great if there was a reputable place that did all this work for you. Not just one person’s version or spin on it, either, no matter how sound their science might be. If you’re anything like me, you want to get as many reasoned, diverse, legitimate perspectives as you can, from qualified individuals. You might think to go to one of the many news aggregators. And while that might pull in a few good sources, you’re know you’re going to pull in the bad ones, too, indiscriminately.
Don’t forget your goals! At the same time that you want this good information, you are trying to separate out those who are — either through ignorance or more sinister motives — working to cover the truth up. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, somewhere, there was a place that gave you only the information you sought, separated out from the misinformation?
(Image credit: Adapted from Meyer’s Konversations-Lexikon [4th edition], 1888.)
That includes those sources, upon hearing the words scientific theory, who might tell you, “well, it’s only a theory. It isn’t like it’s a provable fact.” You know better than to let that rhetoric stop you; having a scientific theory is the most wonderful thing of all! Instead of an endless series of unrelated, inexplicable phenomena, we can make sense of our Universe. Instead of trillions of unrelated organisms over billions of years on Earth, we have evolution. Instead of astrological prognostications and UFO sightings, we have the science of astronomy, covering the Sun, stars, planets, and beyond. And instead of faith healing, conspiracy theories and corporate marketing, we have accurate scientific information about everything from heart disease and HIV/AIDS to tobacco and vaccination against infectious disease.
(Image credit: Robert A. Rohde.)
That’s what, in an ideal world, all of your news would be: accurate, informative and full of a diversity of viewpoints, all of which are reasoned and take into account the full gamut of known facts, data, and the leading scientific theories. If only such a vetted, hand-curated collection of news sources — fact-checked and sifted through by an expert — existed for the topics you cared most about.
So it should come as no surprise that when the New York Times public editor asked whether news sources should serve as truth vigilantes and fact check the veracity of their reporting, I couldn’t believe it. Neither could most Times’ readers, apparently, because the overwhelming response was:
[Y]es, you moron, The Times should check facts and print the truth.
To everyone who thinks that way, good for you! I’m not only 100% with you in spirit; I’m doing something extraordinary about it. That ideal news source I’ve been describing, for dozens of cutting-edge science and health topics? I’ve been building it.
Because these days, I’m more than just a scientist; I’m also the head editor over here at Trapit for the Science and Health sections, and you should really, really care. Trapit is the discovery engine that will find you that incredible diversity of hand-checked sources on any specific topic, and I am the truth vigilante who’s been curating the science and health sections to deliver you that high-quality content you want, exclusively, on a plethora of science and health issues.
The basics of curation are easy, and you can give it a try yourself: sign up for Trapit, have it discover whatever topic you’re interested in, and then take a look through the articles it returns. Like some of them, and want to see more content like those articles? Give ‘em the thumbs up! Are some of them off-topic? (I was interested in dolphins, not the Miami Dolphins!) Thumbs down, and tell it that you don’t like the content. And are some of them on-topic but full of the type of content you know is completely bankrupt? Thumbs down, and tell it that you do not like the source!
For any topic you like, Trapit gives you the power to control your web experience. But you don’t have to do it all yourself; we’ve got a whole team of curators working to bring you the best of the web: that’s our featured traps section! For me in particular, I’m committed to bringing you not just the best in science and health news, but to be the best, most accurate truth vigilante I can be in controlling what content makes it into our featured traps, while making sure that misinformation is kept out. While large news organizations drag their feet on this issue, and while google lackadaisically contemplates flagging “inappropriate” sites, over here, I am working as hard as I can to bring you the most scientifically and medically valid information, exclusively.
(Image credit: Shutterstock, retrieved from this website.)
That means when you want to learn about Climate Change, I’m going to make sure I’m bringing you stories that are devoid of counterfactual, unsubstantiated and misleading content. That means when you want to know about fluoridation in your water supply, you’re going to hear about the medical and dental effects of fluoride and how it relates to public policy, not from anti-science activists. You can go out and find all the misinformation you like on the Internet, but if I’m doing my job properly, you won’t get it from me.
Because every single Science and Health trap you find at Trapit has been trained, vetted, and curated by me to make sure that, although you might get policy or news content in there, what you don’t get is an earful of junk.
Because you deserve to have a place to go on the Internet for scientifically and medically accurate news, from lesser known and up-and-coming bloggers as well as the big names.
But that’s my job. That’s my goal. That’s why I’m proud to be the truth vigilante that the mainstream news media won’t be. And when you see someone spreading harmful disinformation to others, you should be one, too. I’m the head editor of Trapit Science and Trapit Health, and it’s my pledge to bring you the most accurate information about every science and health topic that I possibly can, with the utmost respect for the truth.