Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Propaganda technique #21744: The misleading appeal to authority

Pet peeve time.

The article I cited in the previous post opens like this:
When it comes to global warming, hamburgers are the Hummers of food, scientists say.
"Scientists say". Perhaps you just breezed by that part of the sentence, but in my opinion it should immediately raise a red flag.

"Scientists say"? How many? Of what field? What are their qualifications? The article only mentions two (technically qualifying for the plural form of the word "scientist"), but the lede is written as if this is the -- wait for it -- consensus opinion.

This doesn't happen only with AGW stories. We also see this phenomenon in reporting on scientific research in many areas -- especially in the areas of food-that-is-currently-bad-for-you and things-that-currently-cause-cancer. The funny thing is that when Research Conclusion B totally contradicts Research Conclusion A just a few months later, the news will will present the story as if simply every scientist who matters now says Research Conclusion B is true.

By attaching "scientists say" to whatever the conclusion of the moment happens to be, the journalist seems intent on leading us to believe that there is no meaningful disagreement with said conclusion in the scientific community.

I could write an article entitled, "Scientists say Al Gore is full of it" -- but I would immediately come under withering fire by acolytes of the CoGW, even though there are certainly scientists out there who believe this.

This may seem like a nitpick, but I think that the continual use of this misleading appeal to authority is part of the reason that such a high percentage of news consumers have bought into the AGW hypothesis.

Al Gore is a poor substitute for Placido Domingo, bloggers say