Reading today’s non-editorial about the importance of a Free Press in the LA Times this morning* got me thinking about journalism and science. Both are evidence and science based (which is perhaps why the President hates both). Both go wherever the evidence takes them, even if it goes against the theory they are trying to provide or the story they want to tell. Both focus on fact, not fiction. Both respect peer review and independent confirmation of facts. Both encourage others to verify their results and findings.
(*: Wherein the LA Times said, a free press is important, but dammit we’re so free that we’re not going to let anyone else tell us when to editorialize about it)
Both also have factions that push fictional science for agendas, that publish papers where the evidence is questionable or the conclusions are unsupported by the data, but that purport to be true (cough, anti-vaxxers, cough). These factions have ardent believers, who through intricate conspiracy theories believe the world is against them because the non-believers dispute their fraudulent findings. Even when confronted with evidence from multiple independent reputable sources, they cry “fake” at the truth, put on their tin-foil hats, and continue to march along the path of ignorance.
But focusing on the evidence, following the evidence, is the hallmark of both. So let’s follow the evidence:
- Hillary Clinton. “Lock her up”, they say. “Investigate her crimes”, they say. “Follow the evidence”, I say. There have been numerous investigations — both Congressional and FBI — into her purported crimes. There has been Congressional testimony. However, there has been no sufficiently strong evidence uncovered — evidence that will stand up in court — to indict and try. Without evidence, in this country, we do not lock people up. Without a trial, with sufficiently strong evidence to convince a jury, we do not lock people up. But Congress is free — if there is sufficient evidence — to start up a new investigation. Congress is also controlled by the party that ran against Hillary. But they do not start the investigation, even though they have the majority to do so. What does that evidence say about the evidence they do have? Conclusion: There is insufficient evidence to investigate further.
- Robert Mueller. “It’s a witch hunt”, they say. “It’s a fake investigation”, they say. “Kill the investigation,” they say. “Follow the evidence”, I say. If, as with Hillary Clinton, there is insufficient evidence to indict, there will be no indictments. If there was nothing wrong, why fear the investigation. After all, did Hillary Clinton say “Stop the investigation, it’s a witch hunt”? Hillary Clinton knew she did no wrong, and thus had nothing to fear from the investigation. Donald Trump is surely better than Hillary, and should be able withstand a deep investigation. After all, if he did nothing wrong, then there will be no evidence he did anything wrong. Follow the evidence. [Never mind that the evidence is certainly finding indictable offenses from those under him, and it is certainly finding evidence of contact between the Trump team and Russia, and it certainly finding evidence that Russia wanted to elect Trump and manipulated — through propaganda and cyberattack — the election to that end. There may not be collusion in the end, but they were working towards the same goal, and the evidence uncovered is certainly troubling and would be a major problem if any other President had done it — and that should be the standard.]
- Fake News. There have been numerous cries from the President that any news media that reports unflattering stories about him is fake. However, the hallmark of a strong democracy is its free press that investigates its leaders, that reports on their follies, foibles, mistakes, and yes, crimes. It has been that way in America since its birth — some press more muckraking and sensational than others, perhaps. But is mainstream media fake? “Follow the evidence”, I say. If the press was fake, there would be ample evidence that what was reported was false. There would be no videos or reporting to back it up. There would be discrepancies in the various reports — after all, if it is false, then multiple parties need to come up with the exact same lie and stick to it, without variance. There would be no corroboration from multiple sources. But that’s not the case. The essence of what is reported is based on evidence from multiple sources, and multiple journalistic outlets investigate and come up with the same stories. That’s preponderance of the evidence. Sure, some outlets may have more spin on the news than others, and some spin left, and some spin right. But spin is not falsehood — it is reviewing the evidence and drawing a conclusion. And even then, the spin can be confirmed with evidence, and one needs to look at how the same evidence is interpreted by multiple sources, and look at where the consensus is. Doing that makes clear that the bulk of what is out there in the news — I’d guess 80% to 85% percent, with the fringes being non-journalistic internet sources — are not fake news. That also puts the President’s claims — and the claims of groups like Infowars — into the fictional category.
If you take away something from today, it should be the importance of evidence-based reporting — be it science or journalism. It should be the importance of peer review and independent confirmation. It should be that our news media is not fake, and those making the claim are doing it to both push their particular agenda, and to create a smokescreen to hide the truth of that agenda from you.