Reason to believe?
Here is an interesting piece on peer reviewed journals and science reporting. Apparently, science journalists are starting to look toward non-peer reviewed pre-print repositories like the arXiv to find papers to report on.
And there’s some pretty mind-blowing stuff lurking in the arXiv. Ars recently received a tip to check out a paper that suggests Bell’s Inequalities are simply a big misunderstanding, and we’ve spent decades chasing a phenomenon—quantum entanglement—that doesn’t actually exist. These sorts of fringe ideas sometimes do make it into the scientific literature, but they generally don’t, and rarely have much of an impact if they do. (In fact, if a paper lingers in the arXiv for years without ever finding a publisher, that’s probably saying something about its science.)
The conclusion is that using such sources is sensationalist and irresponsible. As interesting as this question is for science reporting, I wonder about similar issues in reporting political opinions. Is it responsible to report “fringe ideas” in the political realm? After all, something akin to peer review happens to political ideas as well, since different sources also have differing levels of respectability. It seems that many ideas are so unlikely to be correct that they are not worthy of the respect and time devoted to them when they are reported.
The relevant philosophical issues here are complex and often very technical (involving philosophy of science and meta-ethics), theorizing about the nature of knowledge and the relation between ethics and science. Still, this shows that even the most technical and abstract parts of philosophy are still applicable to the “real world.”
Photo by Flickr user Nic’s events used under Creative Commons Attribution license