When the horrifying Creation Museum opened a few days ago, science bloggers responded with a pro-science carnival, edited and organized by champion advocate for rationality PZ Myers. Not surprisingly, a lot of the bloggy attention focused not just on the Creation Museum itself, but on coverage of it in the mainstream media. New to blogging but old to science, and thoroughly, deeply, proudly embedded in the furious set of sane-minded folk who hate the efforts of Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis, the fundamentalist Christian group sponsoring the museum, I was pretty surprised to find myself disagreeing with the other evolution bloggers.
What do we want from mainstream media? (You know, the liberal media, the media that report the facts.) Do we want truth, or do we want passion?
Two mainstream articles on the Creation Museum that have received critical attention from science bloggers include the May 24 NY Times article and today’s Salon article. Both have received heavy thumping for “softball,” “credulous” reporting that “could have been written by Ken Ham himself.” But in the articles, the journalists make it clear that the Creation Museum directly challenges established scientific facts and promotes a specific, biblically literal agenda. So what don’t the articles do, according to their science critics? In a response I left in Evolution Blog’s comments section, I wrote that they don’t convey outrage:
Is it necessarily a bad thing for a reporter to give such a factual account of a news event that people from both sides of the spectrum find it essentially truthful? (Although in fairness this probably isn’t the case—I disagree that “Those paragraphs could have been written by Ken Ham himself” and obviously you are unhappy with this report.)
It’s an interesting problem. I stand by my position that reporting bald facts can be the most powerful method of revealing truth. These articles don’t passionately defend established science, they simply reference it without equivocation. The Times‘ description of this museum as “a kind of relief” for some people, “without the distortions of secularism and natural selection” is an effective way of conveying that our culture is undergoing a terrible polarization, which is one of the most important facts the article reports. Tinged with outrage, an article can lose credibility—and maybe it should. But an article that incites outrage with facts—that’s effective journalism.