Science journalism is a very rewarding career. As the editors of RealClearScience, we read scores of science news stories every week, and we skim the headlines of major research journals. In this way, we have acquainted ourselves with what constitutes mainstream scientific thought in everything from astronomy to zoology. Digesting and translating these complex discoveries for a general audience is a great privilege, and it is an honor we take quite seriously.
In fact, we take it so seriously, that we work under one overarching principle that instructs everything that we do: Maintain scientific accuracy. Nothing is more important to us than conveying factual information to our readers. Doing our best to strictly adhere to this ethic has allowed us to do something few other news outlets are willing to do: Present multiple perspectives on the important scientific issues of the day. Indeed, even though our editorial team has a wide range of political opinions and religious beliefs -- or no belief whatsoever -- we are almost always in total agreement on the scientific content we provide.
That's the power of science. It allows people who otherwise may not be inclined to agree with one another to at least acknowledge a certain set of facts and basic knowledge. Put another way, science allows us to agree on a set of ground rules.
That is why you will never see certain unsupported speculations on our website. Articles that decry evolution as untrue, or espouse that humans are in no way responsible for climate change, or assert that vaccines cause autism, or insist that water fluoridation is dangerous, or tout that genetically modified food is unsafe are not supported by mainstream scientific evidence. Indeed, they are fringe opinions -- and until scientific data suggests otherwise, they are unwelcome on RealClearScience.
We do, however, encourage diversity of thought. From science policy to the nature of black holes, we want to provide our readers with a variety of legitimate viewpoints. We believe this approach has served our readers well.
But, apparently, not everyone agrees. While monitoring the comments left on our website or on Facebook and Twitter, we have noticed three general themes among those who feel the desire to leave a complaint. We would like to take the time to address those here.
#1. RealClearScience is biased.
This grievance is usually stated as, "There is nothing 'real clear' about that article," or, "Not a very good 'science' piece." We have gained a thorough understanding of the sarcastic intent of the quotation mark. We will reiterate that articles we write or link to must meet one major requirement: They must be accurate and supported by good science. While that doesn't necessarily mean that we will agree with their conclusions or opinions, it does mean that we believe the article is more substantive than wild speculation.
#2. Evolutionists like RealClearScience are trying to undercut religion.
Absolutely not. Some of the world's most preeminent scientists have been religious, perhaps the most notable one today being Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. And any student of the history of science is well aware of the deep religious faith of icons like Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, Blaise Pascal, Louis Pasteur, Gregor Mendel, and dozens of others.
As scientists, however, our goal is to analyze that which can be observed and experimented upon. Occasionally, that means we will report on topics, e.g., evolution, that may challenge traditional religious beliefs. But, for two major reasons, we in no way intend to undercut religion. First, religious belief appears to be associated with positive health outcomes, and it would be silly for us to purposefully contradict that finding. Second, many of the questions religion seeks to answer, such as, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" or "What is the purpose of life?" are not scientific questions. Science might be able to provide a hint, but ultimately, those questions belong firmly on the grounds of theology and philosophy.
#3. RealClearScience is "paid off" by [INSERT CORPORATION].
The current evil corporation du jour is Monsanto. Almost every article that we write which extols the benefits of GMOs is met with accusations that we are being "paid off" by Monsanto, a fallacious argument eloquently described by Kyle Hill as Argumentum ad Monsantum. (We have taken so much flak on their behalf that Monsanto really ought to start paying some of our bills.) Never mind that the scientific consensus overwhelmingly supports GMOs, genetic modification is taught in high school textbooks, or that one of our editors has a PhD in microbiology. The very word "Monsanto" apparently trumps all of that.
While GMOs, indeed, are a revolutionary outcome of molecular biology, they do present some concerns. One of them is their contribution to the rise of "superweeds." And we dutifully reported that story because it was good science. That's not something we would do if were "bought off" by Monsanto.
We hope that by answering these concerns, we are able to provide a better picture of our journalistic philosophy. We believe that the state of dialogue in America has been spiraling downward for quite some time. It seems, today, that Americans can no longer disagree amicably. Instead, opponents are stupid, evil, or "in the pocket of Big [Fill in the Blank]." This is a cynical way of looking at our fellow Americans.
Hopefully by providing a news outlet that relies first and foremost on genuine scientific fact, we can humbly help to right the ship.