Climate change, Bill Sammon, and “teach the controversy” journalism

"Teach the controversy" is a refrain you often hear from Creationists, adherents of “intelligent design,” and other activists who deny the science of evolution. The argument is that there are critics of evolution, and schools that teach evolution in science classes should also have to teach what those critics say because “the science isn't settled” and there are “experts on both sides” and lots of people believe in theory X and on and on and on.

The fatal flaw in the argument, of course, is that the science is settled. Evolution is a widely accepted scientific fact -- it's the cornerstone of modern biological science. Critics who insist on “teaching the controversy” are motivated by ideology and are less interested in divining the truth than they are in denying it.

And that, essentially, is the posture Fox News' Bill Sammon has adopted towards climate change. The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence shows that the earth is warming, and it is warming as a result of anthropogenic carbon emissions. This is, to use the popularized term, the scientific consensus. But, as with evolution, there exists a robust movement of climate change deniers who, motivated by ideological and economic interests, insist that this isn't the truth. They deny the earth is warming, or they chalk up temperature increases to sunspots, or they point at localized weather events and chortle about how record January snowfalls in Green Bay show that “global warming” is a crock.

None of this undoes the truth of climate change, but Bill Sammon thinks that it's incumbent upon him and his colleagues, as journalists, to give equal weight to the preachers of anti-science. Why? Because they exist, and they complain:

[W]e should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.

Sammon's defenders insist that he's just striving for “balance,” and that this email actually demonstrates his commitment to good journalism. They couldn't be more wrong. This email shows that Sammon privileges manufactured outrage over scientific truth. The job of the objective journalist is to report that truth, not to “teach the controversy.”