‘Bal­ance’ isn’t about drag­ging ex­perts down to our level

The Guardian Australia - - Opinion - Eva Wise­man

Do you know what I’m sick of? Bal­ance. Un­less you’re walk­ing along a very nar­row handrail above a fa­mous al­li­ga­tor pit, bal­ance is over­rated. Bal­ance gave us last week’s <Italic>This Morn­ing</ Italic> slot where they in­vited ob­ser­va­tional cos­mol­o­gist Dr Sarah Bos­man to de­bate with a flat earther called Martin Kenny. “Martin Kenny,” ITV ex­plained on Twit­ter, “be­lieves the moon land­ings were faked and hu­mans couldn’t pos­si­bly land on the moon as it’s not solid, whereas Dr Sarah Bos­man dis­misses these con­spir­acy the­o­ries as non­sense. What do you think?” Smi­ley face.

It’s a fair ques­tion. What do you think? Do you think, cen­turies of sci­ence brought us here, etc etc, so thank you very much, but I’m go­ing to nod po­litely as if talk­ing to the lady on the bus who in­tro­duces you to each of her toes by their He­brew name, or do you think, as you think so of­ten now, when bat­tered by yet more proof that the main­stream me­dia is con­trol­ling the con­ver­sa­tion: “FAKE NEWS”. Or do you think, as I did: “Bal­ance is killing me?”

This moon-land­ing bol­locks is noth­ing new, nor is plonk­ing some­one with slightly nut-nut ideas on day­time telly and invit­ing the au­di­ence to gawp at them as if at bearded ladies or a pe­nile mar­row. But what does seem new is this im­pli­ca­tion of bal­ance. The plac­ing of some­one who has very likely stud­ied as­tro­physics, re­search­ing the ori­gin of struc­ture, the­o­ret­i­cal physics, stud­ies of the hot big bang, the ex­pand­ing uni­verse and in­fla­tion be­side, and equal to, a man who claims the uni­verse was hatched out of a gi­ant egg.

Bal­ance made Nigel Farage. The voice of the peo­ple, a man who’s only ever been elected as an MEP yet is hired to pro­vide a mono­tone beat­box over ev­ery po­lit­i­cal de­bate. Bal­ance gave us Brexit, with the re­sponse from one pro­fes­sor given equal weight to warn­ings from 10 No­bel-prize win­ning econ­o­mists about its dan­gers.

In June 2016, 1,280 busi­ness lead­ers signed a let­ter ad­vis­ing we stay in the EU – when re­ported by the BBC, this was bal­anced with a sin­gle quote from Sir James Dyson, who ad­vised against.

Bal­ance cre­ated a de­bate out of cli­mate change, where ev­i­dence is reg­u­larly given equal billing to the opin­ions of a minis­cule frac­tion of de­niers. Bal­ance gave us Trump, with a cam­paign where the way Clin­ton “came across” in in­ter­views had the same weight as him, say, mock­ing a dis­abled reporter, or telling lies.

Quite aside from the pol­i­tics, the maths just doesn’t add up. I have a very vivid mem­ory of be­ing in Year 8 sci­ence, in a group with, I think, Lau­ren and Jax, and it was a great and ex­cit­ing hon­our to be in charge of the scales as we care­fully han­dled a va­ri­ety of feath­ers and stones. Bal­ance, “a sit­u­a­tion in which dif­fer­ent el­e­ments are equal or in the cor­rect pro­por­tions”. Not, “a sit­u­a­tion in which a learned ex­pert is dragged down to the level of the rest of us in or­der to mimic adult con­ver­sa­tion”; not that. Not, you go to the bank to talk about mort­gages and one ad­viser says loan-to-value bands vari­able rate some­thing some­thing drifted off to be hon­est, apolo­gies, but a stranger in the queue with a jaunty hat says: “God, don’t lis­ten to that fool. Stir yeast ex­tract in a warm bowl with the pow­dered bones of a robin, and sprin­kle it on high ground as the moon rises – in the morn­ing a two-bed gar­den flat will ap­pear.” Not, the GP tells you there’s a 1% chance of get­ting preg­nant on the pill, but the chap fill­ing out com­plaints forms in the wait­ing room says there’s no need for any of those toxic chem­i­cals, his wife just in­serted a gar­lic pes­sary ev­ery week and they re­mained hap­pily child-free. Speak­ing of which, I spend much of my time now ex­plain­ing to a child why I know best, why “sun­cream”, why “veg­eta­bles”, why “don’t run with scis­sors”. And so I feel acutely aware, at present, of the lim­its of de­bate be­tween some­one with, and I don’t like to boast, ed­u­ca­tion in­clud­ing and up to a 2:2 in crit­i­cal fine art stud­ies, and a per­son who still has trou­ble wip­ing their own bum.

I can see why it hap­pens and why it hap­pens so of­ten. It’s be­cause an old­fash­ioned “bal­anced” de­bate be­tween two peo­ple of equal ex­per­tise is of­ten fairly dull, lead­ing eyes to stray to their phones, to mem­o­ries of sex, to thoughts of lunch. Whereas a de­bate that sticks some­one who has ar­rived in the pub­lic eye via false prom­ises and charisma next to a guy who has toiled bor­ingly through me­tres of his­tory and very long num­bers is more likely to re­sult in drama. But in­cit­ing drama, which re­quires op­po­si­tion and con­flict, is rarely the best way to ref­eree an im­por­tant de­bate. I mean, it’s fun, sure, the bit where the chap in the funny mask does his silly dance about the ozone layer myth, but what does the em­ploy­ment of such a chap tell us about knowl­edge, and ed­u­ca­tion, and all that bor­ing stuff that has no theme tune? It’s so weary­ing, the feel­ing that broad­cast­ers are pa­tro­n­is­ing us with their play­ground ar­gu­ments, the way it’s help­ing us for­get how to make in­formed de­ci­sions. It’s dan­ger­ous prod-

ding at the con­cept of bal­ance, be­cause when it col­lapses, al­li­ga­tors are there. One more thing…

In Do­minic Sav­age’s bril­liant new film The Es­cape, Gemma Arter­ton plays a woman sti­fled by mar­riage and moth­er­hood. The ex­quis­ite word­less scenes where Arter­ton nav­i­gates her home as if it’s a prison will stay with me. It’s a haunt­ing ex­plo­ration of what it means to be free.

Not un­re­lated, Jen­nifer Anis­ton re­sponded to years of ‘poor Jen’ press this week, say­ing: ‘There is a pres­sure on women to be moth­ers, and if they are not, then they’re deemed dam­aged goods.’ Yes, yes, but do you cry at night, Jen?

When good tweets go bleak, part one in a po­ten­tial se­ries, from Brit­ney Spears: ‘Loved see­ing so many peo­ple out cel­e­brat­ing diver­sity and in­clu­sion for #pride here in the UK! Hav­ing the free­dom to be who you want to be is so im­por­tant, which is why we made Prerog­a­tive, a fra­grance for ALL!! Check it out ex­clu­sively at @Boot­sUK #MyPrerog­a­tive.’

Email Eva at e.wise­man@ob­server.co.uk or fol­low her on Twit­ter @Eva­Wise­man

Pho­to­graph: Ken McKay/ITV/Rex/Shut­ter­stock

‘The moon land­ings were faked and hu­mans couldn’t pos­si­bly land on the moon as it’s not solid…’: the set of This Morn­ing on 1 Au­gust 2018 with(from left) Sarah Bos­man, Martin Kenny, Ea­monn Holmes and Ruth Langs­ford.

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