Thursday, August 25, 2005

Paging Dr. Gupta!

Among the numerous silly little bits that CNN does is the "Paging Dr. Gupta" shtick; essentially, Sanjay Gupta, a physician of some kind, covers medical news - he's "paged" by CNN, get it? And he does all the normal mindless banter and chit-chat that's done to make the viewer think he is a friendly, normal person, etc. (I'm sure he is.)

This morning he did a story on a study recently released that found that fetuses can't feel pain before 26 weeks due to the fact that their pain receptor pathways aren't fully developed.

Why is this worth reporting? It's pretty obvious - it ties into abortion debates.

Okay, so an interesting study, there were graphics of nerve cells, sonogram pictures - but then, Dr. Gupta did something strange. After going through the study and reporting on the science, he said, and also had graphics up on the screen, the following: the author of the study delivers babies and performs abortions; a researcher on the study also performs abortions; and the coauthor of the study is a member of NARAL.

Now, here's a report that's about science - dumbed down, to be sure (it is CNN) - but that is premised upon there being some scientific basis. He reports dissenting scientific views, as he should, though the study did make it past peer review; so why does he need to add the political bit at the end? Is that CNN's understanding of objectivity - it's not enough to report contradictory scientific views, but you have to cast aspersions on the group based on politics?

Anyway, it's a bit vexing - and this ties in with various posts here about the role of politics in scientific research. Now, even when there is a debate over the findings of a study based on scientific objections, a reporter or producer feel it necessary to twist the knife politically and question their motivations because of an ideological stance the scientists have. Would the story have been harmed if that had been left out? Couldn't they have gotten the actual point across - i.e. this is a new study and one that is being debated by scientists - without impugning the motives of the authors of the study? And why would Dr. Gupta, someone ostensibly devoted to medicine and science, feel that such considerations had to be included at all? As they say, Are you effin kidding me?