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False balance

ONE of the tenets of good journalism could be summarised as ‘Always get both sides of the story’ as a means to ensure objectivity and fairness, but caution is required when both sides are not equal.

Taking climate change as an example, with an estimated 97 per cent of scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals subscribing to the concept that human beings are playing a role in climate change, it was with dismay that I read the letter you had published from G A Woodward (SA, August 12) asserting the contrary.

I do not mean to suggest that climate science or policies on how to respond to the issue are beyond scrutiny, but I do mean that the debate over human activities causing climate change is essentially over, so there is no longer any need to present the views of a renegade minority who believe the scientific consensus is wrong. Publishing such views is an exercise in ‘false balance’ and in an effort to achieve objectivity, just results in presenting readers with a distorted view of the facts.

Taking this approach to an extreme, there are people who believe that the moon landings were recorded in Hollywood and that the world is flat, you would not expect them to share a stage with NASA for discussions about planetary science.

Local news media have an important role to play in disseminating crucial information and viewpoints, including fact-checked information in an era where other modern media may not be so discerning. But engaging in false balance gives the oxygen of publicity to debunked and fringe beliefs, which risks leaving us all divided and less informed.

Simon Hughes, Member of the Institute of Environmental Scientists, Tockenham

Too good to be true

I SOMETIMES wonder if local politicians ever consider what they are saying when they give interviews to the Adver.

According to senior Conservative councillor Dale Heenan: “If something is too good to be true, it normally is”. He is suggesting that a proposal put forward by Dr Laurie Marsh, as set out in an excellent piece by Connor Mountford (SA, August 29), is nothing more than a pipedream.

I recall saying pretty much the same to Dale and his colleagues when they wanted to ‘invest’ £450,000 of taxpayers’ money in a project which according to then leader and qualified accountant Rod Bluh would produce a £700,000 return to the council.

I was accused of being ‘negative’ – of course the project soon evaporated into nothing, the people of Swindon lost £450,000 and Digital City became a case study for business students. A further £1 million was spent on UK Broadband with the entirely predictable outcome that all the promises made would come to nothing. Strangely, you never hear Euclid Street extolling the virtues of their failed projects.

Over £500,000 was spent on the aborted Swindon Museum and Art Gallery project, with the Conservative administration strangely silent on the subject having been rejected twice for funding – again they took offence at my challenge to their plans despite my providing proof that the so-called Bilbao effect was not all that it was cracked up to be.

Where Dale and I would agree 100 per cent is in his final comment: “Politicians must stop following fanciful dreams that will never come to pass.” I suggest he displays this slogan in a prominent position in the council chamber and Committee Room 6, hopefully it may resonate with his colleagues.

Finally, is Dr Marsh’s monorail any more absurd that the Conservatives’ canal through Swindon?

Des Morgan, Caraway Drive, Swindon

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