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Reader's View: Balance lost when one side lacks credibility

The Sept. 1 "Pro" and "Con" columns illustrated a disturbing trend in America. We downplay knowledge and expertise on the premise that all opinions are equally credible.

In this case, the mouthpiece for a right-wing think tank was put on the same level as a scientist who has studied climate change for much of her life. This was phony balance. Shouldn't we expect some semblance of expertise on both sides of a legitimate debate?

The subject was the influence of climate change on forest fires. Everyone must agree that this is a complex subject involving, among other things, forest ecology, meteorology, and climate studies. In other words, science. On one side of the debate was an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at Stanford with degrees in geology, geophysics, and in hydrology. On the other side was a "resident scholar" at something called the Institute for Policy Innovation with a degree in humanities. His background indicated no scientific training whatsoever. On a scientific question, whose opinion should carry greater credibility?

Beware of think tanks like Freedomworks, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and others. They were founded by wealthy right-wingers to provide a veneer of credibility to their self-serving and greed-based ideology. Their own websites indicate their mission: not factual and impartial analysis but the propagation of conservative philosophy.

The next time you see a pro/con debate, check the credentials on both sides. A think tank with an impressive-sounding but largely meaningless name should raise a red flag.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not all opinions carry equal credibility. And here's a polite suggestion: If it's difficult to find substantial expertise on both sides of a debate, perhaps it would be a good idea to re-examine the idea of "balance."

James J. Amato