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NPR Describes Way it Covers Science

NPR is taking it licks for the surreptiticiously recorded conversation two of its top officers had with men pretending to be part of a Muslim Brotherhood-funded foundation. There are now hundreds of news reports and commentaries on the story, and even the ones on NPR, in the New York Times and in the Washington Post are damaging to the proposition -- if it still is believed anywhere -- that NPR is objective and unbiased.

In the course of a long lunch in Georgetown, NPR's Sr. Vice President Ron Schiller and development officer Betsy Liley manage to say things that are likely to offend many evangelicals, Jews, white people, conservatives generally and the Tea Party in particular. They are sad that the "so-called elite" aren't more numerous. And they give unintentional comfort to those who want to stop government funding of NPR by saying they wish it were possible.

One particularly interesting segment of the tapes is an exchange in which the NPR officials explain how their network covers controversial subjects in science. Betsy Liley is heard describing another funding source who wanted NPR not to report the views of global warming skeptics:

This funder said to us, 'you know you would like us to support your environmental coverage, but we really don't want to give you money if you're going to talk to the people who think climate change is not happening,' (as reported by the Washington Times).
She continues to say,
It is a complicated thing, though. There's a political question and there is a scientific question and we were talking to him about supporting the science desk. And so we've gone back to the science editor and asked how have you planned to cover this thing? Our coverage, if you look at our coverage, you would say that science coverage has accepted that climate change is happening and we're covering it. But in politics, our Washington desk, might actually cover it should it resurface as a political issue...this debate.


I think the challenge in our society now is that we are questioning facts. It's not opinions we are debating. I mean, what are the facts? Is the world flat? Is that the next question we're going to debate?

Mr. Schiller chimes in later saying,

The main point here is that it is not our responsibility to present the opinion of a non-scientist through our science desk. All educated scientists accept that climate change as fact. On the political side, however, where it is not accepted as fact, and the fact that debate is happening is news and it's really important news. And our point of view requires that we cover that debate, if for no other reason than to have Americans understand there are still people who believe that it is not fact.

Global warming is a complicated story. There aren't two sides, but several. Contrary to NPR, there are noted scientists who are global warming skeptics; other scientists who think that there is some warming but that human beings are not responsible for it; still other scientists who think that there is warming and that humans are at least partly responsible, but that nothing can be done about it; and still others who think that, regardless, scarce societal resources should be used for other purposes than trying to prevent climate change. What NPR has decided, however, is that there is only one correct side to the issue and that the critics will be heard only in the political content of the debate, not the scientific. And they will all be lumped together and treated like "flat earthers." In other words, you can expect the same kind of one-sided scientific analysis on global warming at NPR as you would get at, say, The Nation.

That also accounts of course for how NPR covers scientific critics of Darwin's theory and advocates of intelligent design. They are all to be lumped together as "creationists" and dismissed, except as the subject enters political context. And even the purpose of covering the story in its political context is to warn people that such unsound positions are still around.

So science (as with many other topics) is covered by NPR as a cause, not a subject. It is not open-minded in any real way.

It would be wonderful if NPR were shaken up and a different approach mandated. But don't hold your breath. Meanwhile, especially in a time of fiscal crisis and when there is so much variety in the media, why should taxpayers be putting hundreds of millions of dollars into this?