The Other [Credible?] Side

Last weekend, I was at a science fiction and fantasy convention, and among the events was a panel with Robert Sawyer, the Canadian author whose books were the inspiration for the short-lived television series Flash Forward.  The panel was on the subject of the impact of the “Me Generation” on publishing and F&SF.  Several days after the panel, I came across a blog complaining that there should have been someone on the panel who belonged to the “me generation,” since neither Sawyer nor I obviously did [although I must point out that Rob is a number of years younger than I].  That got me to thinking about the premises behind the complaint.

The first premise is erroneous and has belonged to every younger generation since the time of Socrates, if not before.  It is the belief that no one older can possibly understand what the younger generation feels and believes. That is, of course, utter trash.  Every older generation was once young and felt the same way. Some in the older generation have forgotten or chosen to forget and thus do not “understand,” but many, many of us do remember and understand.  We also understand what things we then believed to be true were not as we thought.  This process is known as maturation, also thought of as ossification by many of the younger generations.

But the second premise is the one I really want to address. That is the unspoken assumption, especially among the media, that every issue has another side worth exploring and presenting.  I’d be the first to agree that every issue has another side.  Even Hitler had another side, as did Pol Pot and Osama bin Laden.  But just because there is another side doesn’t mean that such a side is either worth presenting in any depth or that it should be justified by the media or the intellectual communities.  I’m sorry, but, for example, we really don’t need, nor should we be exposed to in-depth expositions of the justification for genocide, pedophilia, serial killings, etc.

Why not?  Isn’t that a violation of freedom of information and the press?

It is if it’s mandated by government, but the press and media need to exercise some self-restraint.  Again… why?

Because, in the simplest terms, in-depth presentation of bad information, poor logic, and the like, especially without critical assessment, gives it a credibility in the eyes of a public too credulous and too accepting of what the media present, particularly whatever is the flavor de jour.  Do I think either limitation or such critical assessment is likely to happen?  Not on your life… or at least in my lifetime. The media is far too interested and far too driven by profit to risk being the first or among the first by actually taking time to read and consider the implications and whether one side or the other of a current story is little more than fluff, if that.  Above and beyond the profit considerations are the pseudo-legal ones.  They don’t want to court lawsuits by suggesting one side of a truly one-sided story has little to recommend it.  That’s how and why the tobacco industry, some of the energy industry, the climate change deniers, and even the financial industry [and its supporters] get almost a free pass.  All these people do is suggest and sow doubt with facts and theories that range from being statistical outliers to being outright wrong or totally irrelevant or by pointing out nitpicking lacks or insignificant weaknesses in data. That way they call claim that they’re true skeptics.  By the way, you can tell the true skeptics from the ideologues by watching what happens when more well-supported data appears.  The true skeptics analyze and consider it; the ideologues find yet another and different basis of support for their stance.

The problem, of course, is that all ideologues believe that the “other side” is non-existent, while those who are open-minded actually consider the other side. But the fact remains… there are some stories and some situations, some of them vital to us and our future, where the “other side” is weak or essentially non-existent… and all too often no one will claim that the emperor has no new clothes.

17 thoughts on “The Other [Credible?] Side”

  1. Zelazny says:

    With the greatest respect and admiration (I am a big fan of your work and own about 90% in hardback) I find myself forced to disagree here.

    Your argument seems to be that the general public are too stupid/naive/trusting so we need to only present the information that we want them to believe. Surely a better way is to present both sides of the argument and let them make up their minds for themselves, or decide that it’s beyond them and to leave it for experts.

  2. Mayhem says:


    I think his argument is that the general public is too naiive/trusting, so that when we present them with two sides to an argument, they (as expected) give them equal weighting.
    However this process is being abused in order to promote particular agendas, by presenting extremely minority viewpoints and treating them as though they are equivalent to the majority opinion.

    Using his example, the tobacco industry would downplay the risks of cancer and lung disease and play up the potential health benefits of smoking. But the health benefits only affected around 5% of smokers, while the downsides would affect 70-80% of smokers over time. This kind of false comparison is becoming increasingly common in modern society, especially as the various parts of the media become increasingly biased to one side or the other.

    What he is saying is while there is more than one side to every story, not every side is of equal importance, or more importantly was of equal influence in whatever action was undertaken. Treating them as such is both a logical falsehood, and intellectual dishonesty. A true sceptic looks at the information all sides, and makes up their own mind, while many of the ‘Skeptics’ or ‘Deniers’ are irrationally orthodox in their thinking and refuse to consider other possibilities.

    This of course sidesteps the issue of manipulative and emotive language being used by both sides in popular debate, say for example Climate Change. ‘Denier’ is a wonderfully loaded term, and ‘Skeptic’ is now being used as a derogatory phrase, implying if you don’t immediately agree with the speaker, you must be an idiot.

  3. Richard Hamilton says:

    Color me a skeptic as to the anthropogenic component of climate change being significant; by far the biggest nuclear reactor in the Solar System is the Sun, and I’m inclined to favor the notion that its cycles (which we only partly understand) dominate our weather, sometimes in non-obvious ways (I saw a paper that said that _more_ solar activity could actually result in cooler weather, since the solar wind impacting the upper atmosphere would seed clouds…or something like that). I’m not utterly unwilling to be convinced otherwise, but right now, attempts to regulate CO2 look more to me like a power grab than anything useful. And until the computer models can better “predict” what has _already_happened_, and the scientists can reduce it down to something that can be explained in semi-plain English (which can usually be done, if not altogether precisely, once they really understand how to think about a problem), I see no reason to give their claims much credence, esp. given the acknowledged pandering to those thay fund them and corruption in some of their work, and other questionable aspects (failure to account for widespread but _local_ changes like population encroachment on once-isolated measuring sites, for instance; even if that’s corrected for, how does one know that the corrections are accurate if they’re sometimes larger than the change one is purportedly measuring?).

    But as to the rest, aside from most of the media being biased in one direction or another (not a new development!), with the bulk of them pretty much in sync, there’s also this: I think they _like_ the notion of the fairness doctrine, a mindless bring-all-sides-to-the-table approach. Why? It’s easy, takes less judgement, and best of all, it means one can constantly stage conflict. Remember the “Jane, you ignorant slut” line from the SNL parodies? Whatever they were parodying (forgot exactly which “news” show) was, aside from the language going quite that far, pretty much that pathetic. But hey, there’s an audience for trash like “Jerry Springer”, so there’s probably an audience for trash-talking commentators, who would have so much less material if they had to admit that not all debates are worthwhile.

    I don’t mind a commentator being a bit provocative, to encourage thought on the part of the audience. But the bottom line is that there should be some times their conclusion is “you need to decide for yourself”, but also at least a few occasions where their conclusion should be that there’s really only one legitimate side. If they do either of those all the time, and never the other, they’re not being honest.

  4. Bob Howard says:

    I’m whole-heartedly in sync with Mr. Modesitt’s observations here. The main point to me is that there is this misguided feeling in this country that somehow “fairness” and “logic” dictate that all sides of an issue be examined equally before a valid conclusion can be made. Apologies to Mr. Hamilton, but in the case of global climate change, the scientific method HAS been rigorously applied and the overwhelming consensus is that it is real and largely driven by human activity (the quibbling at the margins is merely regarding the precise percentage of manmade vs. natural cycles). In this case, alternative hypotheses WERE examined and dismissed after thorough research.

    Similarly, evolutionary theory has stood the test of decades of research and challenges, both scientific and otherwise. In this case, “fairness” proponents argue that equal weight should be given to alternative “theories,” such as so-called intelligent design. The main thrust of this argument seems to be that the universe is far too complex to have resulted from mere chance, so it must therefore have been created by an outside force. The obvious logical fallacy of this approach is completely internal to the argument–if the universe is too complex to have arisen naturally, whence the all-powerful outside force? Would not it be too powerful or complex to have arisen naturally as well, hence its implied creation by a yet-more powerful entitiy? A purely religious explanation has no right to claim equal weight with a purely science-based theory. (And why just evolution…why not argue against the theory of gravity?)

    Challenges to orthodoxy should be encouraged in any open society. Encouraging open-minded pursuit of truth is one thing, but dogged persistence in closing one’s mind is quite another. That’s drifting somewhat from Mr. Modesitt’s main point, but that’s what happens with electronic soapboxes!

  5. hob says:

    Capitalism is not socialism.

    In a capital model all forms of activity are directed into either maintaining existing trade webs, or extending them.

    I think your point Mr Modesitt about misrepresentation of data would only be fixed if one can show how better representative of news– like the kind that benefits larger Trade webs such as Insurance companies– serve the bottom line in a society without breaking up larger trade webs.

    I personally don’t see how, unless a more educated work force would in theory be somehow also be a political party. Unions fight for pay, but should they fight for education?

  6. Janus Daniels says:

    Perhaps we need to teach WHY controversies can continue despite facts:
    people rate personal opinion over research; billionaires pay to have lies published, to protect their profits; politicians attack science, to gain those campaign contributions, and to troll for the ignorance vote (presidential candidates have even denied evolution); religions…

    We also need to protect ourselves from the “2 sides” fallacy, by remembering the world drives far more than a pair of stories, neatly opposed. We have billionaires and indigents, but most of us live between those extremes; we have a dominant pair of political parties, but find more and better political positions in the US today, let alone in world history; we have a wide range of Judeochrislamormonist* religions, not to mention animists, agnostics, atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. Science, whether psychological, biological, political, evolutionary, economic, or climatologic, can support its stories with fact, experience, experiment, and other hard evidence. That, we need to teach.

    @ Mayhem & Richard Hamilton, please browse:
    The latter has a continuously updated “start here” page:

    *My word & welcome to it.

    1. Wayne Kernochan says:

      I would also add – w

    2. Richard Hamilton says:

      Ok, for the sake of argument (not that I believe that our state of knowledge is anywhere near sufficient to make such sweeping pronouncements), let’s pretend that the dominant influence in climate and perhaps other environmental changes _is_ anthropogenic.

      So what?

      AFAIK, history suggests that times both warmer and cooler than the present have existed…and that humans tend to fare better in warmer conditions than in cooler ones.

      So why should I care? I think most of the horror stories are grossly exaggerated. Maybe there’ll be some flooding, changes in weather patterns, etc. It’ll be disruptive. But even the regular El Niño/La Niña
      swings are disruptive. We’ll adapt; that’s what people do.

      The _only_ thing I think _may_ be significant about higher CO2 levels is acidification of ocean water – something we could probably correct with iron seeding or some other measure. I _am_ worried a little about the poor care we take of the oceans, dumping assorted toxins in them and grossly overfishing. And clear cutting of rain forests is idiocy.

      So maybe we need _more_ wars. Kill of a bunch of 3rd worlders, most of whom are much higher polluting per unit energy (although they use much less units per capita of course) than the western model developed countries (which is to say, I suspect some of the former East Bloc is still more on a par with the developing countries in that regard – if not worse, even if they’re more technologically developed in other respects). Maybe it’s western demand for veggies year-round and teak desks that causes clear cutting, but it’s 3rd worlders wishing quick leaps to prosperity that are actually doing it. Get rid of them, get rid of the problem.

      Do I really _want_ that? Probably not.

      But I think that radical changes in behavior beyond what can be done without impacting us high-living westerners grand lifestyle are absolutely as insane as killing off a bunch of people just because they’re inconvenient. I think the _only_ way we can get to cleaner energy is _more_ prosperity, _more_ economic vigor, not less. Don’t conserve, produce, consume, crank it up to where the mere leavings are enough to support the research needed to produce practical and economically viable (without bogus tinkering like carbon taxes) alternatives.

      Trying to conserve and use utterly pathetic sources (wind and and present incarnations of solar) before they’re anywhere near ready will simply drag the economy down to where it will take _longer_ to get there.

      Again, I think that for mere greenhouse gas control, that’s a wasted effort anyway. But I’m also quite clear that it would be nice not to be dependent on the dubious social structures of the middle east for energy, and that fossil fuels aren’t sustainable in the long run at the rates we’re using them. So we should go after the oil shale and phrack ourselves a bunch of natural gas and whatever else it takes to have the economy to push technology a century or two ahead of where it is now. It won’t make things that much worse in the short run, and it will considerably reduce the time it takes to get to the goal of sustainable and more nearly environmentally neutral energy in quantities sufficient that eventually the 3rd worlders can be allowed to aspire to western standards of living – assuming they want it, of course.

      Re-slicing the pie is _not_ an acceptable alternative. Either we get together and bake more pie, or you’d better get ready for a big fight if you try to downsize my slice! I won’t go down alone, that’s for sure.

    3. Mayhem says:

      Personally, I don’t really like any of the major climate websites, whether realclimate or Watt’s one. They all have an agenda to push, and all like to denigrate the opposition over providing tangible solutions. Par for the course for internet soapboxes.

      Have a read of Without Hot Air, for a nicely different look at what we can actually do, based on statistical analysis of what we generate now in terms of power, and what the various future options could provide.

      All that aside, my complaint above was to do with the language used in the ‘debate’. Both sides make very deliberate word choices to frame their position, with highly emotive terms. The whole concept of ‘denialist’ ties in to Holocaust denial, and the idea that people are running around saying the world is flat or the sun goes round the earth. Granted a minority are, but there is nothing wrong with being sceptical of particular facets of an argument while agreeing with the concepts in principle. It is also entirely fine to disagree as to how solutions should be implemented – there are a lot of vested interests seeing a great deal of potential for making money out of the situation, so solutions need to be carefully evaluated.
      Pandering to the public galleries by acting in haste seldom does anyone any good, and inevitable results in additional costs down the line.

  7. Brian Kelman says:

    I don’t believe the majority of people are too stupid to understand complex issues. We suffer from a lack of time to discover balanced approaches to the important topics of today. For any current issue (ie. Israel and Palestine, Obama-care etc.), for example, how would they receive coverage on CNN, FowNews, or MSNBC? The amount of time needed to try to find a balance among these for one issue is too much. So what I think people do is surrender to one point of view and stick with it no matter how extreme and idiotic it may become.

    “…The ideologues find yet another and different basis of support for their stance.” Rather, I tend to see ideologues maintaining their basis of support by denying the other side credibility even if new evidence is produced to support the other side. One method is to shout down and drown out them out. I’ve noticed less debating of the issues and more of this counter productive behaviour. The second is censorship.

    This is actually occurring in Canada as I write. The SUN News Network went on the air in April and they represent the Canadian conservative point of view. Cable and satellite carriers gladly bought the network and have carried it from the outset, except one. The satellite TV division of Bell Canada refused to pay the same as the other and does not carry it. Now Bell owns CTV News Net, a left wing news and information channel and they are very worried about losing ratings. However, if Bell can carry the al jazeera english news and information channel why won’t they carry SUN News Network?

    Freedom of speech is the only gift that we must give to our enemies if we are to legitimately claim it for ourselves. After all everyone must have the opportunity to make a complete fool of themselves in public…don’t they?

  8. Bob Howard says:

    See Natasha Singer’s article in today’s NYT. Much written about this already, the self-selection, self-censorship we all are doubtless guilty of, particularly with our on-line new sourcing. She goes farther, however, in pointing out how much social media, search engines and commercial sites such as Netflix abet the process with algorithms that further restrict our access to information by spoon-feeding us more of what they think we want.

    The problem becomes particularly troublesome when you look at the filtering by Google and other search engines. Ms. Singer talked about an apparently popular new parlor game of doing parallel searches on polarizing topics like gun control or abortion rights, using laptops owned by individuals with different political/social issue perspectives. Amazingly, the top ten search results for each in several such cases only had one or two identical sites. The author’s own attempt to broaden her own sourcing was by adding commentators with opposing views to her Facebook list, but as she checked for their updates less frequently, the program gradually began to weed them out of her automated news feed.

    We are more and more restricting our news sources or being restricted in ways we are unaware of. It’s human nature, of course, to seek affirmation of our own views and to prefer commentary and even straight news that confirms our own biases–it really bothers me, though, that even when trying to broaden my outlook, I can be stymied by my search engine!

  9. Janus Daniels says:

    Thanks Bob. Any “personalized search” is transcendentally stupid for those of us who want to find out anything that we do not already know.
    Please, after doing a google search, scroll to the bottom of the page, click the feedback link, and tell them, in your words:
    I want google to indicate whether “personalized search” is on, and I want to be able to turn it off. Thank you.

  10. I’d certainly agree on some issues. The climate change debate is one such example – the science is as tight as that which connects HIV to Aids, or smoking to lung cancer; 97% of climate scientists and every major scientific institution in the world is adamant about human-caused climate change being something we have to do something about.

    Though the media present it all as a two-sided opinion piece, which does immense amounts of damage. (This is often as an indirect result of funding by oil companies, too.)

    1. Richard Hamilton says:

      Those with an interest in increasing their power (governments, environmentalists, etc) fund the 97%. Those with profit interests fund some of the 3%. It strikes me as corrupt, and not getting to whatever the reality is, either way.

      But I still think we simply don’t know _nearly_ enough to make solid pronouncements on either side, and I doubt very much it matters anyway. Change happens, whatever causes it. It’s likely to be disruptive, but probably not catastrophic. I don’t see the point in spending _trillions_ and cutting back on lifestyles – I don’t think it will get us to a sustainable condition any sooner, not unless one is such a rabid ecofreak as to think that reducing the total human population by about 90% is a good idea (some do – and I admit that as long as I’m not in the 90%, and neither is anyone I care about, it might seem tempting). Keep in mind that the real problem is China, India, and eventually other populous countries having high economic growth rates with those massive populations. Sure, they’re starting from a lower base. But they’re going to want everything we already have, and that probably would be unsustainable using current methods. We aren’t going to make the breakthroughs needed to get to sustainable _massive_ energy sufficient for a higher standard of living for billions more, by cutting back.

      I don’t _believe_ in overall limits to growth. I only believe in different forms of growth, if one form does turn out to be limited. And finding the new forms of growth means not abandoning the old ones until the new ones are viable.

  11. David Sims says:

    Mr. Modesitt, the leftist media does not, on certain subjects, operate as if there were “another side worth exploring and presenting.” All those generations of our ancestors who thought that miscegenation was a race-denaturing, culture destroying, EVIL thing obviously had something that they would tell us, if they were still around to do so. But the mainstream media is owned and is under the executive control of people who will do whatever they must to ensure we never find out what their reasons were.

    In regard to such topics as World War Two and the Holocaust, has it occurred to you that the side being presented to us IS the “other side” that isn’t “worth presenting in any depth or that it should be justified by the media…” but is, anyway? What if you’re being lied to? How would you know?

    The way to know, or at least to be in a position to make the best possible guess, is to have all of the sides available for examination. Let your only limitation be your competence to evaluate and the time you can afford to devote to the task. If you take summaries created by persons with more time and, presumably, more competence, then don’t take all of them from people who have the same interests in reaching particular judgments.

    Let me illustrate how the media can take two identical ambitions, in each case being that of one people determined to swarm in, overpower, dispossess, and dominate other peoples, as expressed in their most popular slogans.

    On the one hand, we have the Mexican group Aztlan. The chant is “Hasta la victoria, siempre!”

    On the other hand, we have the German National Socialist Worker’s Party. The chant was “Sieg heil!”

    They mean the same thing because the ambition of both groups are identical. But the media treats them very differently, and it really isn’t hard to figure out why.

    On the one hand, we have the white nationalist movement in the US/UK/Europe/Australia. Their motto is the noble, but relatively unambitious “We must preserve the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

    On the other hand, we again have the Mexican group Aztlan, whose motto is rather more aggressive: “Por la Raza, todo. Fuera de la Raza, nada.” Translation: “For the race, everything. For those outside the race, nothing.”

    So the question is: Who gets to JUDGE which sides are worth presenting, and which sides are not? Who would you have deciding for you what the truth is, and what it is not? The media, perhaps? The Powers That Be? There are people who would be content to believe whatever the herd has been pre-programmed to accept, but I’m not one of them.

    And if any race is going to have a high degree in-group loyalty with aggression toward outsiders, I want that race to be MY race. The strategy has worked for the Jews. It is working for the Chicanos. And it made Nazi Germany amazingly strong in proportion to their material resources; it took the whole world to defeat them.

    Besides, there IS one thing worse that inflicting genocide, namely being the victim of genocide.

  12. Janus Daniels says:

    “And if any race is going to have a high degree in-group loyalty with aggression toward outsiders, I want that race to be MY race.”
    You could write for; I wish you were.
    Parenthetically, have you ever seen pure bread animals?
    As for AGW denialism, the websites already sited demolish the denialist arguments proffered here.

    1. Janus Daniels says:

      Oooops… pure *bred* animals

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