This is about as close to the right approach as we’re likely to see from a major newspaper. Moreover Wyatt shows amazing insight. Portraying the controversy as a scientific one and and the question of whether vaccines cause autism as so unsettled as to be characterized by saying “nothing knows” is exactly what groups like Generation Rescue want. But this issue goes far beyond the ideological controversy (it is not a scientific one) over vaccines. There are a number of other issues where the press could do with a healthy dose of how the NYT has decided to handle the “thimerosal/autism” claim. Chief among these, of course, is “intelligent design” creationism. Far too often, when I see an article or story about evolution ID creationists are given equal time with evolutionary biologists as though what they have to say has anywhere near the same weight, thus giving the impression of a real scientific controversy. Another beneficiary of this “report both sides” tendency of the press is so-called “complementary and alternative” medicine (CAM). In fact, for CAM often the position is reversed, with the claims of unscientific practitioners being given the most prominence and the side of science- and evidence-based medicine being represented by a single soundbite from a token skeptic. Indeed, the same is true of claims of the paranormal or other fringe science, be it ghosts, bigfoot, UFOs, alien abductions, or whatever. Indeed, just tonight I saw a story on the local news about seeing images of the ghosts of relatives in family photos, with almost no skeptical viewpoint to be seen.
Sometimes being “objective” means throwing out or debunking garbage. The idea that one must dedicate equal space or time to an opposing view point, even if that view point is demonstrably wrong is poisonous to modern media. The problem extends well beyond scientific coverage. To quote Stephen Colbert: “Reality has a well known liberal bias.”